Most heterosexually active women will at some point experience the agony of a bladder infection, or UTI (urinary tract infection). It’s one of nature’s missteps that our urethra, the short tube going into the bladder, is located so close to our vagina. This little distance makes it easy for bacteria to be pushed north and cause a UTI. But the unluckiest among us seem to get this problem a lot—a condition called recurrent UTI. I have many patients who come to my office several times a year, with the familiar complaints of burning when they urinate, difficulty emptying their bladder, needing to pee THIS VERY MINUTE, and needing to pee all. the. time.
MULTIPLE things can cause recurrent UTI:
- Frequent penile/vaginal intercourse (the old P in V)
- Chemical irritation to the urethral opening, which can come from douches, deodorant sprays, or spermicides
- Using a diaphragm
- Not drinking enough fluids
- A weakened immune system
- Menopause, which thins the skin of the vulva and vagina, making your bladder more vulnerable to bacterial invasion
But sometimes it’s just bad luck in the genetic lottery. Struggling with chronic UTI can interfere with your sex life, as it can be hard to get in the mood when you feel like your bladder is on fire. It can make traveling tough, when you need to be near a bathroom all the time. And recurrent UTI can do a number on your sleep, if you need to get up multiple times a night to pee.
getting the diagnosis of recurrent uti
Your gyno will give you a diagnosis of recurrent UTI if you experience 2 UTIs within six months or 3 UTIs in a year. You may need to drop off a urine sample each time, to document that you truly have an infection. You also may need to give ANOTHER sample after you are treated, to show that the infection went away. It can be frustrating to have to head into the doctor’s office or the lab so much (you’re still trying to live your life). But your gyno may be trying to distinguish between recurrent UTI — where the infection comes back — and resistant UTI — where the antibiotics you took were the wrong one for the bacteria you had, so the first infection never truly went away.
how to treat it
If you’re struggling with chronic UTI, you might want to consider prophylactic antibiotics. Your gyno can prescribe a daily dose of antibiotic that you take for somewhere between six months to two years. It may sound extreme to take antibiotics every day…but so is the pain of a UTI. Sometimes taking antibiotics for a long time can clear out your urinary tract, and give you relief from infections for years after. Ask your gyno if this is a plan that might work for you.