Getting a urinary tract infection is the worst. OK, that’s a little dramatic. But with symptoms that include a burning sensation when you go to the bathroom, feeling like you have to go all the time but can’t, and foul-smelling or dark urine, UTIs can be torturous.
And considering that 150 million people get a UTI each year, it’s safe to say this type of misery loves company.
We know a “You’re not alone” pep talk won’t make it any less painful to pee. But that whole “Knowledge is power” thing might help you figure out why your body seems like it’s out to get you. Here are the sneaky factors that up your risk of getting a dreaded UTI.
While all this may sound pretty doom-and-gloom, you can reduce your risk of a UTI by avoiding some of the causes.
1. You eat a lot of sugar
Bacteria that cause UTIs love feeding on sugar, so you run the risk of providing a feast for them whenever your sweet tooth strikes.
“If you eat tons of added sugars and get a real surge in your blood sugar, you may end up with some of that sugar in your urine,” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Yale School of Medicine.
Some foods and beverages, like coffee, booze, and chocolate, can also irritate your delicate urinary tract and exacerbate an existing UTI.
2. You have diabetes
Research shows that if you have diabetes, you’re more likely to get UTIs.
3. You wipe from back to front
Wiping from back to front can transport E. coli, the bacteria that’s behind most UTIs, from the rectal region to the urethra. Moral of the story: Always wipe from front to back.
4. You have lots of sex
The more sex you have, the likelier it is you might get a UTI, Minkin says. That’s because bacteria may move to the urethra from the vagina and from the perineum, which is the area between your vagina and your anus.
Keep in mind that sex toys, oral sex, and anal sex can all introduce bacteria to anyone’s pee parts.
5. You don’t pee after sex
The threat of getting a UTI shouldn’t stop you from getting it on. But that doesn’t mean resigning yourself to the afterburn.
One simple way to cut your risk: Head to the potty after you’ve finished your romp. You’ll possibly flush out the bacteria that may have made their way into your urinary tract.
6. You hold it too long
We’re all busy, but not taking time to hit the loo — and not just post-sex — does more harm than good. You don’t want urine to sit in your bladder for long periods because bacteria in there can multiply if they hang around too long. So don’t hold your pee.
7. You’re using certain methods of birth control
When it comes to UTI prevention, not all birth control methods are created equal. Luckily, only one method is associated with UTIs: a diaphragm.
Because of where the diaphragm sits, it puts pressure on the urethra, which might lead to an increased risk, says Minkin. The good news? There are plenty of other great birth control options.
8. You’re using condoms
Hold up! Hear us out before you throw out your love gloves. Although you should always practice safer sex, unlubricated condoms can increase the risk of UTIs, possibly because of increased irritation to the vagina during sexual activity.
And using spermicide with diaphragms and condoms can increase your risk even more.
9. You don’t drink enough water
Guzzling H2O will make you go pretty often. And that’s a good thing. “When you do this, the bacteria gets flushed out before they have a chance to grab hold,” Minkin says.
Consider that your cue to make a giant water bottle your BFF.
10. You’ve got a cold, the flu, or allergies
You may be tempted to curse your seasonal sneezes, a cold, or the dreaded flu for making your life even more miserable with a UTI, but these ailments aren’t the cause. The meds you take to manage symptoms could be.
Though they’re the bomb at keeping your runny or stuffy nose in check, antihistamines and decongestants might make you go less by causing urinary retention. And — see No. 6 — that may lead to a UTI.
11. You’re pregnant
“Pregnant women have a higher chance of getting a UTI because the hormonal changes cause the bladder muscle to relax, thus delaying emptying,” says Iffath A. Hoskins, an OB-GYN in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center.
If you’re pregnant, you also have a decreased ability to fight off infections, so any UTI-causing bacteria are more likely to catch hold.
And now a brief note about reproductive parts: Although people with penises do get UTIs, people with vaginas are more at risk. It all boils down to the anatomy, Minkin says.
Bacteria that cause UTIs often make their way from the back door to the front and then up the urethra to wreak havoc on the urinary system.
Because the male reproductive system has a longer urethra than the female reproductive system, the bacteria have farther to travel, which makes it more difficult for a UTI to develop.
But regardless of anatomy, once you’ve had one UTI, you’re more likely to get another, especially if you have a vagina.
Although it’s a cruel fate, a UTI isn’t a cause for major concern as long as you seek treatment.
Treatment involves antibiotics. Sorry — natural remedies don’t really work. Antibiotics typically clear up the infection within a few days. So if you feel any of the un-fun symptoms coming on or notice cloudy or pink pee, see your doc, stat.
If you’ve had a UTI three to six times in a year, you might want to see a urologist to make sure you don’t have more complex bladder issues. Plus, your doctor may offer solutions for prevention tailored to your unique health situation.