Yeast infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs) are two of the most common infections that affect women. At some point, most women get one or both of these infections. But there are things you can do to help reduce your risk.
Understand the cause and symptoms
UTIs are caused by bacteria. Yeast infections are caused by yeast, which is a type of fungus.
UTIs can develop when harmful bacteria enter the urethra and spread to the bladder or kidneys. This causes infection of the urethra (urethritis), bladder (cystitis), or kidneys (pyelonephritis). Men can also develop UTIs. But women get them more often because their urethra is shorter, making it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder.
Symptoms of a UTI may include:
- Pain, stinging, or burning when you pass urine.
- Frequent urge to urinate, but not much urine comes out when you try to go.
- Soreness in your lower abdomen or back.
- Urine that has a foul odor or appears cloudy, milky, or reddish in color. Call your doctor right away if you see blood in your urine and it's not your menstrual period.
Yeast infections (candidiasis) are caused by an overgrowth of yeast. A small amount of yeast is always present in the vagina, but overgrowth can cause symptoms that include:
- Vaginal itching or burning, possibly made worse by urinating or sex
- Irritation and swelling of the vulva (the skin that surrounds the vagina)
- Thick, whitish-gray, clumpy vaginal discharge that may look like cottage cheese
If you have signs of a yeast infection or UTI, see your doctor for treatment. Getting quick care can stop the infection from getting worse.
How to lower your risk of feminine infections
To help prevent these infections, practice good feminine hygiene:
- Always wipe from front to back after going to the bathroom. This keeps bacteria that normally live around your rectum from getting into the vagina.
- Wear cotton underwear. This helps keep the area dry.
- Don't wear tight-fitting pants or synthetic-fiber clothes. These fabrics can trap in moisture that encourages bacteria or yeast to grow.
- Change out of swimsuits and sweaty exercise clothes promptly. Germs grow in moist environments.
- Don't use douches, feminine hygiene sprays, or scented sanitary pads or tampons. Douching can upset the balance of normal organisms that live in the vagina. Changes in the vaginal acidic environment can cause an overgrowth of yeast, leading to a yeast infection. If you already have a bacterial vaginal infection, douching can spread the bacteria up into the uterus and ovaries.The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests women completely avoid douching.
- Change sanitary pads and tampons often during your period.
- Avoid hot tubs and hot baths. Opt for a shower instead.
- Keep it clean. Wash the outer part of your vagina and anus each day. Always clean diaphragms, cervical caps, and spermicide applicators after each use. Some women may have to stop using diaphragms, cervical caps, or spermicides if they get frequent infections. If this happens to you, talk to your doctor about other birth control choices.
These tips can help prevent UTIs:
- Don't "hold it." Keeping urine in your bladder for a long time can cause germs to multiply.
- Urinate after sex. This gets rid of the bacteria that may have entered the urethra during sex.
- Stay well hydrated. Drinking enough water can help flush germs from your body. Drinking cranberry juice may help prevent UTIs because it increases the acid in your urine so bacteria can't grow as easily. It also makes the bladder wall slippery, which stops bacteria from sticking to it.
A strong immune system can also lower your risk of UTIs, yeast overgrowth, and other types of infections. Get plenty of sleep, manage stress well, eat nutritious foods, and exercise regularly with your doctor's permission.
Women with diabetes are more prone to getting both UTIs and yeast infections. Keeping blood sugar in check and following your diabetes care plan as prescribed can cut your risk of infections.
Created on 02/21/2011
Updated on 03/01/2011
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Vaginitis.
- American Family Physician. Vaginal yeast infections. American Family Physician. 2004;69(9):2189-2190.
- National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. What I need to know about urinary tract infections.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Urinary tract infections.
- National Women's Health Information Center. Urinary tract infection (UTI).
- National Women's Health Information Center. Douching.
- National Women's Health Information Center. Vaginal yeast infections.