Asking For A Friend: Why do I keep getting UTIs?

Asking For A Friend is new series where we answer the questions that you’ve always wanted to ask.

You know, those little worries, embarrassing queries, and questions that feel too silly to bother anyone with.

There’ll be no judgement here. Every Sunday, we’ll ask the experts to give us all the answers.

First off: Why do I keep getting UTIs?

Burning, stinging, blood in your wee? If these symptoms are all too common to you, you’ll know the pain of urinary tract infections (UTI) – or, as they’re colloquially called, water infections.

Liberty, 24, suffers with frequent UTIs, and has had 10 infections in two years.

‘They’re the worst thing in the world,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘It’s so painful, and sometimes you see blood, too.’

Not only are UTIs painful, but they’re also extremely disruptive and inconvenient.

‘You have to act fast or they get a lot worse,’ says Liberty. ‘I’ve had to visit the hospital before, due to my GP being closed on a weekend.

‘They basically ruin your life for two weeks and not to mention, you have to spend £10 on antibiotics.’

What’s worse, talking about UTIs, no matter how painful and how common (around 60% of women and 12% of men will get a UTI at least once in their lifetime), is still somehow a taboo.

‘It’s always assumed that you get them from sex,’ says Liberty. ‘And it’s insinuated that UTIs are somehow dirty or unhygienic.’

According to writer, scholar and expert in body politics, Mary Morgan, the reasons for this are (surprise surprise) rooted in patriarchy.

‘Women are labeled as being “dirty” and “immoral” for issues pertaining to sex due to deep patriarchal roots,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Our society has historically categorised women into the Madonna/whore dichotomy, a binary that is still deployed today.

‘When it comes to sexual health and UTIs, women today are still labelled as the whore, and shamed for being “dirty” or “slutty”.

‘These negative connotations of shame and stigma, as with most medical misunderstandings, are largely due to a lack of knowledge.’

So let’s break down the stigma: what exactly are UTIs, why do we get them, and why do some people get more than others?

What is a UTI and what are the causes?

The NHS defines UTIs as infections that affect your urinary tract, including your bladder, urethra or kidneys.

Symptoms of a UTI may include a burning or stinging sensation when peeing, an urgency to pee, even when there’s nothing there, peeing more frequently than usual and blood in your pee.

‘UTIs are caused by a bacterial infection in the urinary tract,’ explains accredited nutritionist Ellie Busby.

While many people do, as Liberty says, associate UTIs with sex (and not urinating after sex), there are actually many reasons why this might happen.

Common causes of UTIs

  • Bacteria moving from the anus to the urinary tract, which usually happens due to:
    • Sex
    • Not washing well / unsanitary conditions
    • Wiping from the back after going to the toilet

    Ellie Busby, accredited nutritionist

    It’s important to note that interstitial cystitis has similar symptoms to UTIs but occurs when there is no infection present, and there is no known cause for interstitial cystitis.

    Why do some people get recurring UTIs?

    Though it’s different for everyone, around one in five young adult people with vaginas experience recurring UTIs.

    They’re more common in people with vaginas as the urethra is much shorter than in men. 

    ‘We’d normally describe a long-term, or chronic UTI as when an infection doesn’t clear up with treatment or comes back again,’ explains Melanie King a pharmacist at Pharmacy2u.

    ‘For example, if you are still experiencing symptoms after completing treatment, or if symptoms go away but then come back again a few days after completing treatment.

    ‘If you experience two or more UTIs in six months, this could also qualify as a chronic UTI.’

    Sadly, it is not yet known why some people are more prone to recurring UTIs, but part of the reason is that bacteria are becoming more resistant to antibiotics, meaning that the medicines that are often prescribed for UTIs are becoming less effective.

    Treatments for UTIs that don’t include antibiotics

    If you fear you’re becoming resistant to antibiotics, there are some evidence-based natural remedies you can try, says Busby.

    They include:

    • Probiotics
    • Cranberry juice or extract
    • Garlic extract
    • Sodium bicarbonate in water
    • Curcumin supplements
    • Pycnogenol (pine bark extract)

    Should I be worried about chronic UTIs?

    Dealing with chronic UTIs is not only inconvenient, it can also be scary and even debilitating.

    Thankfully, UTIs themselves are very common and rarely a problem as long as they’re treated.

    However, explains Busby, left untreated, they can lead to a kidney infection, which is life-threatening. 

    ‘Some people may not have common UTI symptoms, and it’s especially difficult to recognise in older people, so it’s important to get checked out if something seems wrong,’ she adds.

    Your symptoms may be down to something else

    Very occasionally, chronic bladder pain can be a sign of something more serious such as bladder cancer.

    However, this is extremely rare.

    Nevertheless, It’s important to get checked out by your doctor if you’re worried.

    Ellie Busby, Accredited Nutritionist

    Finally, if you feel healthy enough, but your symptoms are affecting your quality of life, you should consider speaking to your GP.

    ‘If your symptoms are persistent, affect your quality of life or your ability to go about your day-to-day life, that is the time to speak to your GP about further tests and treatment,’ adds King.

    UTIs don’t have to ruin your life.

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