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Let’s be honest: Getting a urinary tract infection is the worst. With symptoms that include a burning sensation when you go to the bathroom, not being able to pee a lot (even though you feel like you do), and foul-smelling or dark urine—to name just a few—UTIs can feel like straight-up torture. And considering the fact that one out of five women will get a UTI at some point in their lives, it’s safe to say that it’s the type of misery that loves company—mostly female company, that is.
Though dudes aren’t totally off the hook, it’s significantly harder for them to get UTIs. It all boils down to anatomy, explains Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Yale School of Medicine. Bacteria that cause UTIs have to make their way from the back door to the front and then up the urethra in order to wreak havoc on the urinary system. Because guys are (hashtag) blessed with a longer urethra than women, the bacteria have a further way to travel, making it more difficult for them to cause a UTI in the male body.
One thing that is true for both men and women? Once you’ve had one UTI, you’re more likely to have another. While this all may sound pretty doom-and-gloom, that whole knowledge-is-power thing might help you figure out why your body seems like it’s out to get you. Here, the sneaky stuff that ups your risk for getting a dreaded UTI.
1. You can’t quit your sugar habit.
Binging on cookies doesn’t only affect your waistline—it can actually lead to a UTI. “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,” Minkin explains. And the bacteria that cause UTIs love feeding on sugar, so you run the risk of essentially providing a feast for them whenever your sweet tooth strikes.
2. You’re diabetic.
Sad but true: Diabetics are more likely to suffer from UTIs, research shows. Remember how UTI-causing bacteria are big fans of sugar? Well, when you’re diabetic, your blood sugar can be off the charts—potentially making your urine the perfect place for bacteria to multiply (and lead to an infection), Minkin says.
3. You wipe the wrong way.
By ”wrong,” we mean back to front. Wiping this way can bring bacteria—specifically, E. coli, the bacteria that lives in the bowel that happens to be the culprit behind most UTIs—into the urethra. Moral of the story: Always wipe front to back. Always.
4. You have lots of sex.
Ma-jor bummer alert! The more sex you have, the likelier it is you might get a UTI, Minkin says. That’s because bacteria from the vagina and from the area between the vagina and your butt may move to the urethra every time you do the deed. We repeat: every time.
5. You don’t pee after sex.
The threat of getting a UTI shouldn’t stop you from getting it on. (After all, there are at least 15 reasons having sex is awesome for you.) But that doesn’t mean resigning yourself to the afterburn either. One simple way to cut your risk: Head to the ladies’ room after you’ve hit the finish line—you’ll hopefully pee out the bacteria that may have made their way into your urethra.
6. You hold it too long.
We’re all busy, but not taking time to hit the loo (and not just post-romp) does more harm than good. Because the last thing you want is urine to sit in the bladder for too long, just growing bacteria.
7. You’re using certain methods of birth control.
When it comes to UTI prevention, not all birth control methods are created equal. Luckily there’s only one method that’s 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 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 safe sex, unlubricated condoms can increase risk of UTIs, possibly because of increased irritation to the vagina during sexual activity. And using spermicide with diaphragms and condoms can increase risk even further. Try lubricated condoms (without spermicide) instead, or use a nonspermicidal lubricant to help prevent UTIs.
9. You don’t drink enough water.
Guzzling H20 (or fluids in general, for that matter) 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 camp out at the water cooler.
10. You’ve got a cold.
Before you curse your cold for making your life even more miserable, know this: The cold itself has nothing to do with a UTI. The meds you take to manage your cold? Those are a different story. Though they’re the bomb at keeping your runny nose in check, antihistamines might also make you pee less, which (as we now know—see #6) may lead to a UTI.
11. You’re pregnant.
“Pregnant women have a higher chance of getting an UTI because the hormonal changes cause the bladder muscle to relax, thus delaying emptying,” says Iffath A. Hoskins, an OB/GYN at NYU Langone Medical Center in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. What’s more, pregnant women have decreased ability to fight off infections, so any UTI-causing bacteria are more likely to catch hold and cause an infection.
The Bottom Line
Although it’s a cruel and not-so-unusual punishment, a UTI isn’t cause for major concern as long as you seek treatment, which involves antibiotics that typically clear up the infection within a few days. So if you feel any of the aforementioned symptoms coming on, see your doc, stat. And if you’re plagued by the problem (as in, you’ve gotten a UTI three to six times in a single year), you might want to see a urologist to make sure you don’t have more serious bladder issues.