You're in good company: One in every two women will get a UTI at some point in her life, and 1 in 4 women will suffer from frequent UTIs
Why do some women get UTIs so frequently, while others do not? Those of us who get frequent UTIs sometimes have a specific condition or circumstance that puts at higher risk—specifically, pregnant women, elderly women and people with diabetes are at higher risk. For women who do not fall into those categories, the risk of developing frequent UTIs can be related to anatomy or habits.
A woman’s risk of developing a UTI throughout pregnancy increases for a few reasons. For one, the uterus is located directly above a woman's bladder. As her uterus grows, it can obstruct her bladder. Sometimes that can block drainage, and stagnant urine can be an inviting place for bacteria to grow. Additionally, hormonal changes during pregnancy can make it easier for bacteria to travel up the urinary tract. These changes make frequent UTIs a common phenomenon in pregnant women.
As we age, our risk of developing frequent UTIs increases for a few reasons. In general, our immune system weakens over time, making it more difficult for our body to defend itself against harmful bacteria. As women age and go through menopause, estrogen production declines, too. Reduced estrogen may allow UTI causing bacteria to grow and establish themselves more easily, causing an infection.
Another important change is that the muscles around the bladder weaken as we age. Weakened muscles make it more difficult to fully expel urine, and the remaining urine can be an inviting place for bacteria to grow.
Finally, catheters often introduce bacteria that can cause UTIs, and catheters are more often necessary for elderly patients.
People with diabetes
Another group of people more prone to frequent UTIs is people with diabetes. People who have diabetes have an increased risk because they may also struggle to fully release the bladder due to a range of things such as neural damage and compromised blood flow.
Additionally, people with diabetes commonly take a medication called Jardiance that works by filtering sugar from the blood and releasing it in the urine. The sugar in the urine makes infection more likely for two primary reasons:
- Bacteria in the urinary tract can eat this sugar and use it to grow and spread.
- When urine dries outside the urethra, this can make sugar available for bacteria to spread into the urinary tract. Jardiance has shown to really improve the health of those with diabetes but also comes with the unfortunate side effect of frequent urinary tract infections.
The rest of us
There are also a large number of women who suffer from recurrent UTIs that are not pregnant, post-menopausal, or diabetic.
The reasons why these women are prone to frequent UTIs range. In some cases, women’s anatomical difference makes it easier for bacteria to travel throughout some of our urinary tracts than others. Some women may develop more UTIs because of hygienic habits, like wiping back to front, or because they are frequently dehydrated and as such are not urinating enough.
Additionally, your odds of getting another UTI increases once you’ve had one, so even if you came down with a UTI as a one-time result of circumstances, you make become someone who gets UTIs frequently after your first.