UTI Prevention Tips for Women

Women experience more urinary tract infections (UTIs) than men for many reasons, and self-catheterisation can increase the risk. Learn about ways that women can avoid UTIs.

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Get tips for preventing UTIs in women

If you’re a woman, it’s probably not a surprise to you that urinary tract infections (UTIs) are more common in females than males. Several factors contribute to this, including the layout of the female anatomy, sexual activity, feminine hygiene product usage, and menopause. And if you use a catheter, that increases your risk of a UTI as well.

If an infection is limited to the bladder, it can be painful and annoying. But serious health problems can result if a UTI spreads to the kidneys. Below is a discussion of the risk factors, along with some practical and proactive actions you can take to avoid UTIs.

The female anatomy and UTIs

One reason women get more UTIs than men is because of the design of their “plumbing” – particularly the location of their urinary tract and the length of their urethra. A woman’s urethra is much shorter than a man’s and is located close to the vagina and anus, making it more likely for bacteria to enter the urethra and cause an infection. To prevent UTIs, be sure to wipe from front to back after urinating and after a bowel movement. This can help keep bacteria from spreading from the anus to the vagina and urethra.

Other factors that contribute to UTIs in women

In addition to anatomy layout, female-specific UTI risks generally fall under three categories: sexual activity, feminine hygiene product usage, and menopause.

Sexual activity – Many women get UTIs after vaginal intercourse. That’s because the motion of penetration can push bacteria from the anus or vagina into the urethra. Below are a few tips to help you prevent this from happening:

  • Cleanse your perineal area (i.e., the area extending from your anus to your vulva) immediately after intercourse
  • Avoid spermicidal lubricants, since they may alter normal vaginal and urethral flora (i.e., the “good” kind of bacteria)
  • Urinate immediately after sex to potentially flush out harmful bacteria
  • If you use a diaphragm, consider another birth control method, since diaphragms can contribute to bacterial growth

Feminine hygiene product usage – If you’re menstruating, pads and tampons are a place where bacteria can grow very easily. Be sure to change your tampon at least every four hours, depending on your flow, and avoid wearing them overnight. Pads also ideally should be changed every 4 to 6 hours.

Menopause – If you’ve gone through menopause, many things can increase your likelihood of getting a UTI. Your bladder may contract less forcefully and be more difficult to empty completely, which can allow bacteria to propagate. In addition, because your estrogen production drops, your vaginal pH levels change. This can disturb the balance of bacteria and yeast in your vagina, increasing the chance of infection. Finally, your vaginal walls may become thinner. This can result in small tears near the urethra — which can be entry points for bacteria. Below are some tips that may help you avoid UTIs if you are a post-menopausal woman:

  • Try and empty your bladder as completely as possible every time you urinate
  • Consider discussing vaginal estrogen therapy with your doctor
  • Use liberal amounts of non-spermicidal lubricant during sex

Catheter usage and UTIs

Using a catheter introduces another layer of UTI risk. When it comes to hygiene practices and insertion techniques, be sure to follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations. Below are some general guidelines to help female catheter users avoid UTIs:

  • Keep your vaginal area and perineum consistently clean
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before performing self-catheterisation
  • Do not touch the top of your catheter with your fingers, or allow it to touch other surfaces; consider using a no-touch catheter with a protective tip and sleeve

If you do experience the symptoms of a UTI or if you have recurrent infections, make a doctor’s appointment for treatment. Also, ask your healthcare team for additional preventative measures specific to you.