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What Causes UTI: Essential Information

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Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a type of bladder infection that primarily occurs when bacteria enter the urinary system, leading to discomfort, pain, and, in severe cases, complications like kidney infection. Understanding what causes a urinary tract infection (UTI) is helpful for effective UTI prevention and treatment. In this article, we look at the factors contributing to UTIs, ranging from common triggers to underlying health conditions. 

Common UTI Causes

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract and multiply (1). Normally, bacteria are not present in the urinary tract, but when they do get in, they can cause an infection.

The most common culprit behind UTIs is Escherichia coli (E. coli), a bacterium typically found in the digestive system (1). E. coli can easily travel to the urethra and adhere to the lining of the urinary tract, leading to an infection.

Other germs, such as Mycoplasma and Chlamydia, can also cause infections, particularly urethritis (1). These germs can be sexually transmitted, so it’s essential for both partners to receive medical treatment to prevent re-infection.

Certain conditions can increase the risk of UTIs. These include any blockage in the urinary flow or instances where urine flows back from the bladder to the kidneys, both of which can create an environment conducive to infection.

Risk Factors for UTI

While bacterial infections are the primary cause of UTIs, several risk factors can increase susceptibility to these uncomfortable and sometimes recurrent UTI infections.


In women, the urethra is short and straight, making it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder. Hormonal changes can also play a role in the likelihood of developing a UTI. Some women are more prone to infections at specific times in their menstrual cycle, such as just before their period or during pregnancy (1).


UTIs are more prevalent in older adults, due to the tissues of the urethra and bladder becoming thinner and drier with age and after menopause or a hysterectomy. 


During pregnancy, the urinary system widens, causing slower urine drainage and a higher risk of UTIs. Bacteria can sometimes move from the bladder to the kidneys, leading to an infection. Prompt treatment of UTIs during pregnancy is important, as they can raise blood pressure and cause other complications (1).

Urinary Catheterisation

Using a urinary catheter when hospitalised, provides a direct pathway for bacteria to enter the bladder, significantly increasing the risk of bladder infection.


People with diabetes are at higher risk of UTIs because their urine can have high glucose levels, providing an ideal environment for bacteria to grow. Additionally, diabetes can weaken the immune system, making it harder to fight off infections. The likelihood of developing a UTI increases as diabetes advances (1).

Women are more likely to have recurring UTIs if they:

  • Use spermicide jelly or a diaphragm for contraception
  • Have had a new sexual partner in the past year, as increased sexual activity can trigger UTI symptoms
  • Experienced their first UTI at or before age 15
  • Have a family history of frequent UTIs, especially if their mother had them
  • Suffer from constipation (1)
Diverse women

UTI and Poor Hygiene

Maintaining proper hygiene practices is paramount in preventing UTIs, as poor hygiene can significantly increase the risk of bacterial contamination in the urinary tract.

Improper Wiping Technique

Inadequate wiping technique after using the toilet, particularly in women, can lead to the transfer of bacteria from the anal region to the urethra, increasing the likelihood of UTIs. It is essential to wipe from front to back to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Infrequent Changing of Sanitary Products

Prolonged use of sanitary pads or tampons can create a moist environment conducive to bacterial growth, increasing the risk of UTIs. Regularly changing sanitary products is key to maintaining cleanliness and preventing bacterial colonisation.

Personal Hygiene Habits

Neglecting personal hygiene, such as infrequent bathing or wearing soiled underwear, can promote bacterial growth in the genital area, potentially leading to UTIs. Maintaining a regular hygiene routine, including daily bathing and wearing clean underwear, is essential for urinary tract health.

UTI pain - woman with weakened immune system

Prevention Tips for UTI

Preventing UTIs means taking proactive measures to reduce the risk of bacterial growth in the urinary tract, such as looking into foods to avoid with a UTI. Incorporating the following prevention tips into daily routines can help maintain urinary tract health and prevent urinary tract infections.

Stay Hydrated

Drinking adequate water helps flush bacteria out of the urinary tract by increasing urine production and promoting frequent urination. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water daily if engaging in vigorous physical activity or hot weather.

Practice Good Hygiene

Maintain proper hygiene practices, including wiping from front to back after using the toilet to prevent the spread of bacteria from the anal region to the urethra. Additionally, ensure regular bathing and changing of underwear to minimise bacterial colonisation in the genital area.

Urinate Frequently

Avoid holding urine for prolonged periods, as this can promote bacterial growth in the bladder. Urinate when you feel the urge to do so, and try to empty your bladder completely each time.

Urinate After Sexual Activity

Voiding shortly after sexual intercourse can help flush out any bacteria that may have been introduced into the urinary tract during sex, reducing the risk of UTIs. Encourage postcoital voiding as part of your routine.

Wear Breathable Underwear

Opt for cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothing to promote air circulation in the genital area and reduce moisture, creating an environment conducive to bacterial growth.

Avoid Irritants

Certain products, such as spermicide-coated condoms, feminine hygiene sprays, and douches, can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina and increase the risk of UTIs. Avoid using these irritants, and opt for gentle, unscented products for genital hygiene.

Consider Probiotics

Probiotics containing Lactobacillus species may help maintain the balance of healthy bacteria in the urinary and genital tracts, reducing the risk of UTIs. Discuss the use of probiotics with your healthcare provider to determine if they may be beneficial for you.

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  1. Victoria State Government. Urinary tract infections (UTI) [Internet]. Victoria: Better Health Channel; 2022 [cited 2024 Jul 5]. Available from:


Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. The health and medical information on this site is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied.

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