Can Incontinence Cause UTIs?

While urinary tract infections might be more commonly considered to be a cause of incontinence, we explore the alternative and answer the question - can incontinence cause UTIs?

Can Incontinence Cause UTIs?

While urinary tract infections might be more commonly considered to be a cause of incontinence, we explore the alternative and answer the question - can incontinence cause UTIs?

urinary tract infection and incontinence

A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when any part of the urinary system - the bladder, urethra or kidneys - becomes infected with bacteria. This bacteria can travel from the anal or genital areas and travel into the urinary system.  

But can incontinence cause UTIs? That’s what we are going to uncover in this article, so keep reading! 

Now, first and foremost it’s essential to familiarise yourself with symptoms and side effects that may indicate you have a UTI. These include: 

  • Pain and/or burning sensation when passing urine

  • Abdominal cramping

  • Frequent and/or ongoing sudden urges to urinate

  • Inability to fully empty bladder when urinating

  • Cloudy or bloody urine

  • Fatigue and dizziness

  • Fever

  • Nausea and/or vomiting

  • Urinary incontinence or a sudden increase in incontinence symptoms (more on this soon!)

 While it’s more commonly considered a side-effect of a UTI, let’s now explore the question - can incontinence cause UTIs?

causes of utis

How does incontinence cause UTIs?

There are certainly a few ways in which incontinence can cause UTIs.  

People who experience urinary incontinence may limit their fluid intake to avoid having an incident. This can increase the risk of a UTI, however, because it can cause dehydration and the concentration of urine in the bladder which can lead to bacteria growth and infection.  

Those who use catheters for incontinence can be at a greater risk of developing a UTI due to bacteria that can develop in the catheter if it’s not kept clean. 

If someone is experiencing difficulty emptying their bladder as a post-surgery side-effect, this can also result in a UTI.  

There are also instances where urinary incontinence may be left untreated and this can encourage the onset of recurrent UTIs.  

Then, of course, because UTIs can irritate your bladder, they can cause a strong urge to urinate.  

One study of postmenopausal women found that 60% reported urinary incontinence 4.7 times per month with a UTI, compared to women who did not experience a UTI, they only experienced urine loss at 2.64 times per month [2].  

Those who already experience incontinence can also be more susceptible to getting UTIs which may exacerbate their incontinence symptoms.

women incontinence utis

Who is susceptible to UTIs?

Women are eight times more likely to have a UTI than men [2], and 50-60% of women will experience a UTI in their lifetime [3].

This is because a woman’s urethra is shorter and closer to the anus, which means bacteria can be spread more easily. Around one in two women will develop at least one UTI in their lifetime. 

Men can still get UTIs, they’re just less common and frequent cases of UTIs in men could be a sign of other medical problems.

It’s important for both women and men if displaying any of the mentioned symptoms to speak to their GP.

incontinence utis elderly people

Incontinence and UTI in elderly people

It’s important to note that seniors and the elderly are at a higher risk of developing UTIs, as along with incontinence they can also experience:

  • Weaker immune systems

  • Lower levels of estrogen (post-menopausal women)

  • A history of recurrent UTIs

  • Medical conditions that can cause them to retain urine, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Diabetes, prolapsed bladder or enlarged prostate

Can incontinence products cause UTIs?

It is possible for incontinence products to contribute to UTIs in some cases. For example, if a person is wearing incontinence pull-up pants or a slip that has been soiled with faeces it can make it easier for bacteria to enter the urinary system and cause a UTI.

Whether you’re a wearer or a carer, ensure incontinence pads, pants and slips are changed regularly and the area is cleaned effectively. It is also important not to wear a pad until saturated or for extended periods of time. On average, you should change your pads a minimum of 3 to 4 times a day.

We have an article on how often you should change incontinence pads for extra support. Be sure to purchase incontinence products that have the right absorbency level for your needs.

prevent uti and wash hands

How to prevent UTIs

Along with the above tips on changing your incontinence products regularly (depending on your needs), some other ways you can prevent UTIs include:

  • Wipe the genital area from front to back to avoid spreading bacteria to the urinary system

  • Wash the genital area with unscented, gentle soap and rinse well with warm water

  • Keep the area as dry as possible as bacteria thrive in damp conditions

  • Choose incontinence products that have good absorbency

  • Keep hydrated with plenty of water and fluids to flush out bacteria

  • Eat a whole food diet full of gut-loving nutrients - think vegetables, fruits, lean meats, seafood, whole grains, etc.

If you have ever suffered from a urinary tract infection, you know just how painful and uncomfortable it can be.

That's why we want to invite you to read other helpful article on our blog: "6 Tips to Avoid UTIs". It is full of practical advice to help you prevent these infections from occurring in the first place.

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