6 reasons why you might get recurring UTIs — and how to reduce your future UTI risk

6 reasons why you might get recurring UTIs — and how to reduce your future UTI risk
UTIs that occur more than several times a year may be a cause for concern.Morsa Images/Getty Images
  • You may keep getting UTIs if you are a woman, sexually active, going through menopause, or have certain medical conditions like diabetes.
  • To treat recurring UTIs and reduce your future risk, it's important to drink more water, consider different birth control methods, and ask your doctor about natural remedies like cranberry supplements.

Anyone who's had a urinary tract infection (UTI) will tell you that it's annoying and uncomfortable, to say the least. A UTI occurs when bacteria infect a part of the urinary tract.

UTIs are very common. Over 50% of women will have at least one UTI throughout their life. Some people will have more, especially if they are predisposed to recurring UTIs. Recurring UTIs are defined as having several UTIs a year, says G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, OB/GYN Lead at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.

Here are several reasons why you may be having recurring UTIs and how to reduce your risk of getting them again.
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1. You are a woman

Women are more prone to UTIs simply due to their anatomy. Having a shorter urethra and a shorter distance between the opening of the urethra, vagina, and anus makes women more likely to get frequent UTIs, says Jane Yun, MD, OB/GYN at Loma Linda University Health.

Men have longer urethras and a greater distance between their urethra and anus, which makes them less likely to get UTIs, though it is still possible. Women get UTIs a whopping 30 times more than men do.

2. You are sexually active

Having sexual intercourse can also put you at higher risk for getting UTIs. This is because sex can cause bacteria from the vagina and anus to get pushed up the urethra, says Ruiz. Once this bacteria is in the urethra, it can cause an infection.
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In order to counteract this, Ruiz says you should always urinate after sex to flush away bacteria and help prevent a UTI.

3. You are going through menopause

Menopause results in thinning of the vaginal tissue and an increase in the pH of the vagina, Yun says. This causes a change in the vaginal flora, or, the bacteria in the vagina, which can increase your risk of getting UTIs. Yun says that applying topical vaginal estrogen, such as estrogen cream, is helpful to combat this. Furthermore, menopause may also be associated with incontinence and incomplete emptying of the bladder, which can also put you at greater risk for UTIs.
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4. You use a diaphragm

Diaphragms are shallow silicone cups inserted into the vagina as a form of birth control. They are used with spermicide, chemicals that prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg.

Diaphragms and spermicides may also cause a change in normal vaginal flora, allowing colonization of bacteria that is more likely to cause UTIs, Yun says. Additionally, a diaphragm that's too large could obstruct the urinary tract, however, this is a less likely cause.

5. You use douches

Douching is the practice of washing out your vagina with water or a store-bought mixture. This can also throw off the balance of normal flora in the vagina, which can allow for the overgrowth of bacteria that causes UTIs, Yun says.
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Plus, douching can increase the risk of other vaginal infections and irritations such as bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections. Overall, Yun says gynecologists typically advise against douching.

6. You may have certain medical conditions

Certain medical conditions can make you more likely to get a UTI. Some of these include:

  • Diabetes: Diabetes may weaken the immune system, leaving you more susceptible to UTIs. Plus, Ruiz says that diabetics' urine tends to have higher levels of glucose in it, which can promote bacteria growth.
  • Autoimmune diseases: Any autoimmune disease will put you at higher risk for UTIs, since your immune function is compromised, Ruiz says.
  • Pelvic organ prolapse: If any of your organs have prolapsed, it may make it difficult to completely empty your bladder, Ruiz says. Because of this, bacteria may thrive and cause UTIs. A pelvic organ prolapse occurs when muscles that support the organs weaken and they fall into or out of the vagina.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy can make it harder to empty your bladder fully, making you more likely to develop a UTI. The prevalence of UTIs in pregnancy is anywhere from 2% to 13%.

How to treat recurring UTIs

If you have recurring UTIs, there are some simple changes you can make that may reduce your risk. According to Yun, these include:
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  • Increasing water intake. Yun says to aim for one and a half to two liters of water a day. "Because everyone is unique, I often tell my patients to look at the color of their urine as an indicator of their hydration status. In healthy patients, clear, pale yellow urine is good," Yun says.
  • Considering new contraception options that are less associated with UTIs, such as birth control pills, IUDs, or non-spermicidal condoms.
  • Urinating after sex and wiping from front to back when using the bathroom.
  • Taking a cranberry supplement, since cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (PACs) that may help prevent bacteria from sticking to the lining of the bladder.
If none of these do the trick and you still have recurrent UTIs related to intercourse, Yun says a single dose of antibiotics after sex may be prescribed to prevent infection. You would know that a UTI is related to sex if symptoms arise within the first few days after sex, typically within the first day after, Yun says.

"We try to avoid daily antibiotic prophylaxis when possible because of concerns of side effects and bacterial resistance but for those who need this option, it is very effective," Yun says.

Additionally, Ruiz says it may be helpful for someone with recurring UTIs to see a urologist if the above strategies do not help. A urologist can look at the bladder and determine if there is something anatomical going on that may be contributing to the UTIs.
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Insider's takeaway

UTIs, especially recurring UTIs, can be extremely pesky. Luckily, there are plenty of preventative measures that you can take to ward off UTIs — such as urinating after sex, staying hydrated, trying different birth control methods, and taking cranberry supplements — and there are reliable treatment options that can bring you relief if you do get a UTI. If you are suffering from recurring UTIs, don't hesitate to see a doctor.

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