UTIs occur when harmful bacteria enter the urinary system. In most cases, the bacteria arrive in the urinary system by way of the urethra, which is the tube that carries urine out of the body. Once the bacteria are inside the body, they can start to multiply. This multiplication process typically takes place within the bladder.
There are many ways to get a UTI — especially for women. In fact, women have a much higher risk than men of developing UTIs. Why? It all comes down to the female anatomy. Because a woman’s urethra opening is located so close to the anus, it’s easy for bacteria in the anal region to come in contact with the urethra and enter the body. (This can happen during sex, or when a woman wipes after using the bathroom.)
Women also have shorter urethras than men, which further increases their chances of getting a UTI. This is due to the fact that once bacteria enter the urethra, they have only a short distance to travel before reaching the bladder; and once in the bladder, the bacteria can start to multiply and cause an infection.
Changes in vaginal bacteria can lead to UTIs in women as well. If a woman frequently changes the bacterial composition of her vagina (which may occur from using certain products, such as spermicides or vaginal douches), a UTI can form as a result. Hormonal variations during menopause can also cause bacterial changes that may lead to UTIs. (Women going through menopause may also start to lose estrogen in the vagina, which further increases UTI risk as estrogen is typically a protectant against such infections.)
Of course, UTIs don’t only affect women. Men can develop UTIs, too. Here are a few common causes of UTIs that affect both sexes:
- System Blockages: If the bladder is unable to empty completely, it gives bacteria an ideal environment in which to grow. Kidney stones or urinary tract abnormalities may cause this, as well as an enlarged prostate in men.
- Medical Interventions: Urinary surgery, a urinary tract exam and catheters can all increase a person’s risk for developing a UTI.
- Compromised Immune Systems: People with diseases such as diabetes are more likely to be affected by UTIs because their immune systems (which fight germs) may not be working effectively.