Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are preventable, but some people are more prone to developing a UTI than others. A UTI occurs when bacteria enter a part of the urinary tract system. UTIs are more common in women than men because the female urethra is shorter, which means less distance to travel for bacteria.
UTIs can be painful. If left untreated, they can progress and lead to serious health complications. Here are some well-known risk factors (aside from being a female) that increase your odds of developing a urinary tract infection.
4 risk factors for a urinary tract infection
Being a male over the age of 50: As men age, the prostate gland begins to enlarge, which puts pressure on the urethra and causes difficulties when urinating. Bacteria can grow where urine gathers, causing a UTI. If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night more frequently to urinate or if urinating has become more difficult, speak to your doctor about having your prostate checked.
Being a postmenopausal woman: A reduction in the hormone estrogen is the primary reason for an increased susceptibility to UTIs in postmenopausal women. This is because urinary tract infections develop when unhealthy bacteria such as E. coli grow in the bladder. Normally, the healthy bacteria – lactobacilli – prevent urinary health problems by stopping the growth of the unhealthy bacteria, and estrogen encourages a robust level of lactobacilli. However, estrogen levels drop after menopause, which can also mean a drop in lactobacilli and, consequently, an increased susceptibility to bacterial bladder problems such as UTIs.
Physical changes in the vaginal wall are also responsible for the increased susceptibility to UTIs experienced amongst postmenopausal women. More specifically, the reduction in estrogen post-menopause causes the lining of the vagina to get thinner, which makes it easier for unhealthy bacteria to multiply. The vaginal fluid becomes less acidic, which is also a problem because acid kills harmful bacteria and unhealthy bacteria thrive in alkaline environments.
Being a senior: The bladder muscles weaken with age, so they don’t contract as efficiently as they once did. This means urine can be left behind in the bladder, turning into a breeding ground for bacteria. UTIs are even worse for the elderly because of their impact on one’s mental condition. This is because ammonia levels increase in the body, negatively impacting mental clarity and causing strange behavior.
Being diabetic: Having diabetes can also make you more prone to infection. Diabetes is associated with sensory issues, so you may not even realize that your bladder is full and hold in urine for prolonged periods of time as a result. In many diabetics, the bladder contracts less and doesn’t drain properly, which results in infection.
If you fall into any of these high-risk categories, you should speak to your doctor about effective preventative measures to take to lower your risk of contracting a UTI. If left untreated, UTIs can result in serious complications, which may harm the bladder and the kidneys. Addressing your urinary tract infection early on with proper treatment will decrease your risk of complications.