Women’s Health FAQs

What Is a UTI, and How Can I Prevent One?

Publication Date: February 27, 2019

By: NWHN Staff


What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)? How can I prevent a UTI?


A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract, specifically the urethra. Most UTIs are caused by bacteria from other body parts ending up where they don’t belong. For example, the most common cause is E.coli, which is found in stool in the rectum and gets into the urinary tract [1]. 

Here are some common UTI symptoms to look out for [2]:

  • Pain or burning while urinating (dysuria)
  • Urgent need to urinate frequently (urinary urgency)
  • Feeling the need to urinate even though the bladder is empty
  • Cloudy, bloody, or strange-smelling urine
  • Pelvic pain

Older and elderly women may not experience the same apparent physical symptoms of a UTI. Instead, sudden behavior changes are indicators of a UTI. According to A Place For Mom, “falls, confusion, new onset of incontinence in someone who had been getting to the bathroom, decrease in appetite, any of these can be a sign of a urinary tract infection. It really requires a detective-like index of suspicion from the caregiver.”

Women are 30 times more likely to experience UTIs than men [2]. The reason why is simple: In women, the openings to the urethra, the vagina, and the rectum are very close together, so it is easy for bacteria to get to the urinary opening accidentally. The distance between the urethra and anus matters, too, as women who have a shorter distance between their urethra and anus are more likely to get a UTI than women with a longer distance [2].

Preventing UTIs involves a few lifestyle changes [2]:

  • Stay well hydrated with water
  • After urinating, make sure to wipe from front to back and use separate toilet paper to clean the anus. 
  • Take regular showers, using unscented, gentle soaps to wash your genitals.
  • Wear cotton underwear because it “breathes” compared to synthetic underwear, which can trap moisture.
  • Before sex, thoroughly clean anything (fingers, genitals, sex toys, etc.) that touches your anus before touching genitals.
  • Urinating after sex can also help clear out bacteria that may have entered the urinary tract.

If you experience severe back pain, nausea, vomiting, shaking and chills, and/or fever, it’s an indication that the infection may have moved to the kidneys. Pregnant women and anyone with UTI symptoms accompanied by chills, fever, vomiting, and/or pain in the kidneys [near the middle of the back] should not wait to contact their health provider.

Check out our Urinary Tract Infection Consumer Health Information to learn more about UTIs.


[1] Czajkowski, K., Broś-Konopielko, M., & Teliga-Czajkowska, J. (2021). Urinary tract infection in women. Przegla̜d Menopauzalny – Menopause Review, 20(1), 40-47. https://doi.org/10.5114/pm.2021.105382

[2] Lights. V. (2023, February 21). UTIs in adults: Everything you need to know. Healthline.https://www.healthline.com/health/urinary-tract-infection-adults#symptoms

Updated 2/13/2024 by Rachel Grimsley, RN, BSN, MSN, Nurse Writer

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