How to stop the cycle of chronic UTIs

General Wellness

woman drinking red juiceOne urinary tract infection (UTI) can be irritating enough. But for the 20 percent of women who experience recurring UTIs, it’s a cycle that can be frustrating, painful, and affect quality of life.

“It’s not abnormal for women to have more than one or two UTIs during their lifetime, but if you’re having two or three every six months or every year, that’s too frequent,” says Darlene Gaynor-Krupnick, DO, FACOS, urologist at Lankenau Medical Center.

Fortunately, chronic UTIs don’t have to be a life sentence.

“Many women who have recurring UTIs are prescribed antibiotic after antibiotic, but never find permanent relief because the antibiotic doesn’t address the underlying cause of the UTI,” explains Dr. Gaynor-Krupnick, who is trained in female pelvic medicine, reconstructive surgery, and neurology. “The identification of what causes a UTI is important to preventing recurring infections, and determining the appropriate course of treatment.”

UTI’s are a result of a number of things, including bacterial contamination as a result of many different factors, including poor fluid intake, repeatedly ‘holding it’ when you feel the need to urinate, vaginal douching, certain types of undergarments, and intercourse. For behavioral risk factors like these, most urologists offer lifestyle changes that can help reduce your risk of a UTI, such as:

  • Drinking plenty of liquids, including water and cranberry juice, to help flush out bacteria in the bladder
  • Urinating at least every three to four hours, or more often if necessary, to prevent the growth of bacteria
  • Going to the bathroom as soon as possible following intercourse
  • Avoiding douching or scented products in the genital area

However, not all risk factors can be so easily controlled. UTIs occur primarily in women during their reproductive and post-menopausal years, and factors like changes in estrogen levels or low estrogen levels, birth control pills, kidney stones, abnormal urinary tract shape or function, or even a family history of UTIs can be out of their control and increase their risk.

Still, treatment options are available.

“In cases where a woman’s risk factors are out of her control, it’s still possible to control the symptoms of a UTI,” says Dr. Gaynor-Krupnick. “Women with recurring UTIs that cannot be treated with lifestyle changes can undergo an evaluation to determine the cause and proper treatment option for them.”

Those treatment options can include long-term antibiotics that last anywhere from a few months to a few years, or that you begin taking at the first sign of a UTI. Other options include prophylactic antibiotics that are taken after intercourse, if infections are related to sexual activity. For post-menopausal women who haven’t and aren’t currently taking oral estrogen, your urologist may also recommend vaginal estrogen therapy.

The bottom line? Recurring UTIs don’t need to be a way of life. If you're experiencing the symptoms of a UTI more than twice every six months, talk to your primary care physician or urologist about treatment options. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654).