How to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections


Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are very common, affecting millions of Americans every year. Approximately 10 in 25 women and 3 in 25 men will experience the symptoms of a UTI during their lifetime. UTIs can be painful and annoying, but there are steps you can take to prevent them from happening.

What is a urinary tract infection?

“A urinary tract infection is an infection that happens in the urinary system, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra,” said John A. Holets, MD, a family medicine physician at Penn Highlands Family Medicine in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. “While UTIs can happen in any part of the urinary tract, they most often occur in the lower tract, which is comprised of the bladder and urethra.”

Who is at risk of UTIs?

Women are at greater risk of developing a UTI, but men are also susceptible.

“Women experience UTIs more often because the female anatomy has a shorter urethra than men,” said Dr. Holets. “A shorter urethra means that there is less distance for bacteria to travel to reach the bladder, increasing the chances of developing a UTI.”

Other risk factors include:

  • Certain types of birth control, such as diaphragms or spermicidal agents
  • Decline in circulating estrogen after menopause, which can cause changes in the urinary tract
  • Previous urinary tract problems, including congenital issues
  • Blockages in the urinary tract, such as kidney stones or an enlarged prostate
  • A suppressed immune system from diabetes or other diseases
  • Catheter use
  • Recent urinary procedure

What are the symptoms?

UTIs do not always cause symptoms, but they may include:

  • Strong urge to urinate that does not go away
  • Burning feeling when urinating
  • Urinating often and only passing small amounts of urine
  • Urine that looks cloudy, red, bright pink or cola-colored
  • Strong-smelling urine
  • Pelvic pain in women

When to see a doctor?

If you experience the signs of a UTI, talk to your primary care provider. UTIs are often treated with antibiotics, but you can also take steps to lower your chance of developing an infection.

Here are four tips to reduce your risk.

Tip 1: Stay hydrated.

Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. By keeping your bladder tissue hydrated, it dilutes your urine and reduces the concentration of bacteria in the bladder.

Tip 2: Regularly empty your bladder.

Bacteria thrive in warm and wet environments, and when urine sits in the bladder for long periods, it can breed the conditions needed for bacteria to grow.

Tip 3: Urinate after intercourse.

Bacteria can get very close to, or even into, the urethra during sex, which can lead to an infection. Emptying your bladder afterwards removes some of the bacteria.

Tip 4: Wipe front to back.

After urination or a bowel movement, wipe front to back to prevent bacteria in the anal region from spreading to the vagina and urethra.

If you are experiencing a urinary tract infection or another bladder health concern, the primary care providers at Penn Highlands Healthcare can help. A primary care provider can diagnose and treat minor conditions and help you navigate chronic illnesses by referring you to a specialist. To find a primary care provider near you, visit