Simply put, urinary tract infections are caused by a breach in the body's natural defense system, which causes an overgrowth in bacteria in any part of the urinary tract such as the urethra, bladder, or kidneys.
Unfortunately, this definition doesn't necessarily explain the underlying causes of a urinary tract infection. So let's dig a little deeper to understand what could cause an overgrowth of bacteria in the first place.
What causes bacterial overgrowth that leads to UTIs?
First and foremost, it's necessary that we understand what makes bacteria thrive. It might be gross to think about, but bacteria are basically tiny little animals — or microorganisms — that require certain conditions in order to stay alive. While they're quite adaptable to diverse environments, there are certain specific conditions that cause their reproduction to go into overdrive, and causing overgrowth.
These conditions are:
- Warm temperatures — unfortunately for us, that's close to our body temperature
- Moisture — just like us, bacteria need to stay hydrated
- Environmental pH — some like more acidic environments or more alkaline environments
- Oxygen — that's why we vacuum-seal food to slow bacterial growth
What does this mean for UTIs? Unfortunately, our bodies are very good breeding grounds for bacteria. While we have a little army of our own, sometimes the conditions are just so perfect that the enemy wins. So the key is to keep your urinary tract from becoming too good of a home to these little guys. Luckily, there are some very simple tricks that will prevent UTIs from happening, if you're not a chronic sufferer.
Chronic or recurring UTIs
In some cases, there seems to be no simple trick that will prevent urinary tract infections from coming back. A small portion of the population suffers from urinary tract infections on a recurring basis — either every few months or weeks.
If this is your situation, and you've tried every trick in the book (like drinking more water and peeing after sex, for instance), there's a high chance that there's something bigger at work, here.
In order to successfully prevent urinary tract infections from coming back, it's importing to find out what's causing them in the first place.
UTIs occur mainly in women and can affect the bladder and urethra.
Bladder Infection (cystitis). This UTI is caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli), a type of bacteria commonly found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. However, there are many other types of bacteria that could be beneficial for you.
Sexual intercourse is another main cause that leads cystitis, but you don't have to be sexually active to develop it. All women may be at risk of cystitis because of their anatomy — the short distance from the urethra,
Infection of the urethra (urethritis). This UTI occurs when GI bacteria spread from the anus to the urethra. Also, the female urethra is close to the vagina, sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia and mycoplasma, all could results in urethritis.
- Female Anatomy - Women have shorter urethras compared to man does, which shortens the distance that bacteria must travel to reach the bladder
- Sexual Activity. Women who are sexually active have a great chance of more UTIs than do women who aren't sexually active. New sexual partners also increases your risk.
Types of birth control. Women who use diaphragms for birth control may be at higher risk, as well as women who use spermicidal agents.
Menopause. At this stage, a in circulating estrogen causes changes in the urinary tract that make you more vulnerable to infection.
Urinary tract abnormalities. If born with urinary tract abnormalities that don't allow urine to leave the body normally or cause urine to back up in the urethra have an increased risk of UTIs.
Blockages in the urinary tract. The bladder is a bacteria breeding ground which needs to be periodically emptied. For example, kidney stones or an enlarged prostate can trap urine in the bladder and increase the risk of UTIs.
Suppressed immune system. Diabetes and other immune system impairing diseases can increase the risk of UTIs.
Catheter use. A catheter is a tube that helps people urinate. If one is not used when someone cannot urinate, there will be an increased risk of UTIs. This includes people who are hospitalized, people with neurological problems and people who are paralyzed.
A recent urinary procedure. Surgery or an exam of your urinary tract that used medical instruments can increase your risk of developing a urinary tract infection. The bottom line is foreign bodies being used puts you at greater risk.