Frequent UTIs? Health's contributing medical editor weighs in on habits that might help prevent them—plus a few other factors that could be to blame for a urinary tract infection that keeps coming back.
Urinary tract infections result from bacteria entering your urethra, bladder, and/or kidneys. If you get a UTI more than twice in six months, that’s considered a recurrent infection. The first step is to make sure you’re doing what you can to prevent bacteria from entering in the first place: Urinating right before and after intercourse helps flush out any bacteria that might have made it into the urethra during sex. Wiping front to back helps keep fecal bacteria away.
Other habits that may help: using pads instead of tampons and staying well hydrated (peeing frequently helps sweep bacteria from the system). Also, vaginal douches and spermicides can mess with the bacterial makeup of your vagina and make you more susceptible to UTIs. Tell your doc about any products you use in and around the genital area.
If lifestyle behaviors don’t seem to be the cause, there are a few other factors that could be triggering infection. Fluctuating estrogen levels associated with menopause can disturb vaginal pH. Some women may also have a genetic predisposition to UTIs.
UTIs usually respond well to a short-term course of antibiotics. But with chronic UTIs, your doctor may want to prescribe low-dose antibiotics for longer-term treatment (six months or more) to help keep the infections from coming back. Or she might recommend taking an antibiotic after each time you have intercourse as a preventive measure. Recurrent urinary tract infections that are not treated properly can eventually lead to kidney infections or even permanent kidney damage, so you’ll want to stop the cycle as early as possible.
Health’s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.