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Women are more susceptible to urinary tract infections (UTIs) than men at any age, and after menopause, your risk of developing one increases even more. Understanding why can help you take steps to lower the likelihood of infection.

Why UTIs are common after menopause

Many factors contribute to UTIs in post-menopausal women.

Your vaginal and urinary tract lining changes

After menopause, your estrogen levels drop precipitouslyand many changes take place in your body. Many women experience genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM), the term for dryness and thinning of the lining in both the vagina and urinary tract. This is because the tissues of the vaginal wall are especially sensitive to estrogen levels. Lower estrogen levels lead to thinning of the tissues and possible compromise of the important barrier function these tissues perform. These changes can make it easier for bacteria to enter your body and  give rise to an infection.

If you have GSM, your doctor may recommend that you apply an estrogen cream to your genital area regularly to thicken these tissues to reduce the risk of UTIs and ease other symptoms of the condition.

Your organs may shift

Muscles support the organs of your lower digestive system, urinary system and reproductive system. Hormonal changes that occur after menopause can weaken these muscles, causing your organs to shift. The condition is known as vaginal prolapse. In some women, vaginal prolapse puts pressure on the bladder, and this in turn makes it difficult for the organ to completely empty when you urinate. The obstruction can encourage infection-causing bacteria to grow in the bladder and urethra.

Incontinence may be to blame

Fecal incontinence that occurs as you age can increase your risk of UTIs. Bacteria naturally present in stool is the most common cause of urinary tract infections, and incontinence makes it more likely that germs from your anal area will come in contact with your urethra. Wiping from front to back and changing protective underwear promptly following an episode of incontinence can mitigate some of this risk.

In addition, the risk of urinary incontinence increases post-menopause. This in itself can increase the risk for urinary tract infection. It is important to determine the cause of urinary incontinence as the treatments are directed towards the root cause of the incontinence.  

You may not be going to the bathroom often enough

If it’s harder for you to get back and forth to the bathroom, you may ignore the urge to go for as long as you can. Unfortunately, holding your urine can make you more likely to develop a urinary tract infection. When you urinate, you flush out harmful bacteria. Going less often than you should can give infection-causing bacteria a chance to thrive. Consider using mobility aids and installing grab rails and/or an elevated toilet seat, so you can make trips to the bathroom safer and easier.

You may not be drinking enough

Fluid intake is essential to UTI prevention. If you don’t produce enough urine, you may not adequately flush out bacteria that enter your urinary tract. Invest in a 48- to 64-oz. water bottle, fill it in the morning, and sip throughout the day to stay hydrated and support urine production.

Your immune system slows with age

Your immune system may not fight off infections as effectively as it did before menopause. If you have diabetes or another medical condition, your immune system may be further impaired. Some medications can also suppress the immune system and leave at a higher risk for a UTI. Strive to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, manage stress, and eat a well-balanced diet rich in whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables to support your immune system.

Forward provides one-on-one, personalized care for UTIs

As your primary care provider, Forward does more than just prescribe antibiotics for a UTI. We also explore the underlying causes of the infection through diagnostic tests and assessments and talking to you about your lifestyle and habits. Based on this information, we can develop a preventative care plan to lower the likelihood of UTIs and help you achieve your other health goals after menopause.

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