5 Myths You Probably Still Believe About Urinary Tract Infections
Skip sex and drink cranberry juice, and you won't have to worry about urinary tract infections (UTIs)—at least, that's the conventional wisdom. But it turns out conventional wisdom isn't always so wise. From common risk factors to unproven remedies, let's unravel the giant ball of hokum wrapped around our understanding of UTIs.
1. If you get one, you must have poor hygiene.
You can still fall victim to a UTI even if your hygiene habits are squeaky-clean, says Steven Sterious, MD, a urologist with Philadelphia's Einstein Healthcare Network. Also, while many people believe , tampons, tight-fitting clothing, and pantyhose are UTI triggers, research says nuh-uh.
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2. Only women get UTIs.
About 12% of U.S. men get one in their lifetime, and UTIs are just as serious for men as they are for women. "It's pretty rare in younger men, but UTIs are more common once they hit 50," Sterious says. He says that's especially true for men in their 60s and 70s.
Unfortunately, itistrue that UTIs are much more common among women. (A woman's lifetime risk of having one is greater than 50%, according from UCLA.) Blame anatomy: A woman's shorter urethra gives bacteria more direct access to her bladder. Also, a woman's urethral opening is close to her anus and vagina, which can be sources of bacteria.
3. Drinking cranberry juice can treat or prevent UTIs.
Yes, cranberries contain an active ingredient that may prevent bacteria from sticking to the wall of your bladder. But studies show cranberry juice and supplements don't contain enough of that ingredient to be very effective. "Compared with placebo, cranberry products haven't been shown to significantly reduce the length or occurrence of UTIs," Sterious says. Cranberry juice also tends to be loaded with added sugar, so it's probably worth skipping.
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4. Only sexually active women get UTIs.
UTIs can happen at any stage in life, although they're actually most common during pregnancy, menopause, and perimenopause, research shows. "Sex can trigger a UTI, but it's certainly not the only risk factor," Sterious explains. He says some birth control methods—spermicide or diaphragms—as well as immune system issues and urinary tract abnormalities or complications could all be to blame. He adds, "Sometimes we just don't know what causes a UTI."
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5. Getting more than one UTI is dangerous.
"UTIs are so common that some women will actually have recurring infections close together," Sterious says. "Your doctor will probably want to look into your case more closely if you have several in a 6-month period, but it doesn't necessarily guarantee that something more serious is going on."
For most women, UTIs go away on their own. But there's always a risk of the infection spreading to your kidneys and becoming the "more serious" issue Sterious is talking about. For that reason, you should always have a UTI treated promptly.
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