The frequent urge to run to the bathroom, feeling like you have to go, but nothing happens you do. And when you do urinate, it burns and is painful. These are tell-tale symptoms of a urinary tract infection, and they can seem insufferable. Causes are various and can happen at any time to men, women or children. Understanding typical urinary tract infection causes can help you minimize your risk.
What is a UTI? A UTI, or urinary tract infection, is a bacterial infection that can occur anywhere along the urinary tract, from the kidneys to the urethra. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, Escherichia coli (E. coli), a bacteria that normally resides in the intestines, is responsible for most typical urinary tract infections — especially in women. Other bacteria, such as staph, can cause various urinary tract infections, but that's less common.
Risk factors in urinary tract infections. Things that make it more likely for one person or another to get urinary tract infections are known as risk factors. Some risk factors include:
- Being a woman. The structure of a woman's urinary tract is more prone to infection due to the length of the female urethra, which the University of Maryland Medical Center states is about 1.5 inches in length, compared to the typical male urethra, which is 8 inches in length.
- Sexual intercourse. Frequent and recent sexual activity is the biggest risk factor for UTIs in young women — as many as 80 percent, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Certain contraceptives, such as diaphragms, increase the risk of developing a UTI.
- Pregnancy. During pregnancy, your risk of developing a UTI is higher. The normally present bacteria tend to develop into a full-blown infection of the kidney more often.
- Allergies. Allergies to things such as soap don't trigger UTIs on their own, but skin trauma they may cause can make you more susceptible. Small skin injuries open up the area for bacteria to be easily introduced.
- Menopause. The risk for UTIs is highest in women who have experienced menopause. Estrogen loss is the primary reason for this proclivity. The loss of estrogen thins the walls of the urinary tract, making it less able to resist the bacterial invasion.
- Antibiotic usage. Lactobacilli are a protective bacterium that becomes eliminated, along with the intended bad bacteria, when an antibiotic regimen is prescribed. An overgrowth of E. coli is often the result, leading to a UTI.
- Other risk factors. Illness, catheters, structurally abnormal urinary tracts, diabetes, immune deficiencies, enlarged prostate obstructing the urinary tract or other obstructions can all lead to a susceptibility to UTI.