Medically reviewed by Dr. Emily Rymland, DNP FNP-C on June 23, 2022
Your monthly period can be a serious bummer to begin with — bleeding, cramps, cravings, and hormonal changes are bad enough — but what makes a period even worse is a UTI in the mix. Having a UTI in combination with your period can make two uncomfortable situations that much worse.
But is there a relationship between UTIs and your period? Are UTIs more likely when you’re menstruating? And what can be done to prevent getting a UTI while on your period? In this blog, we’ll answer these questions and more to give you a better understanding of the relationship between UTIs and periods and how to prevent that undesirable double whammy.
What is a UTI?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common bacterial infection that affects millions of people each year, occurring when harmful bacteria enters the urethra or bladder and multiplies there. UTI symptoms include:
- A strong need to urinate
- A burning sensation during urination
- Strong smelling urine
- Only passing small amounts of urine
- Cloudy urine
- Bloody urine that appears red, pink, or brown in color
- Pelvic pain in the center of the pelvis
If left untreated, UTIs can lead to more serious conditions like kidney infections or blood infections. Thankfully, UTIs can usually be resolved quickly with proper treatment. Drinking water can help flush the bacteria out of the urinary system while you wait to get treatment, and antibiotics from a doctor usually can clear up the infection in a short amount of time. However, prevention is key to avoiding UTIs.
The most important way of avoiding a UTI is to practice good hygiene. Wiping from front to back helps keep fecal bacteria out of the urethra. Changing underwear regularly, urinating after sexual activity, and washing hands can also help stop the spread of bacteria. However, even with all of these preventive methods, there still is a chance you can get a UTI. This is especially true if you are a woman.
Why Do UTIs Happen More Frequently in Women?
While both men and women can get UTIs, they occur much more frequently in women. In fact, women get UTIs up to 30 times more often than men. There are several different reasons why this can happen. The first is that the urethra is shorter in female bodies, which means that bacteria has less distance to travel in order to reach the bladder.
Another reason women get more UTIs is the close proximity of the urethra and the anus. Fecal matter and bacteria have a much shorter distance to travel to cause an issue in women than in men.
Women can also get UTIs during sex. While a UTI isn’t a sexually transmitted disease, bacteria can spread during sexual activity because the urethra and vagina are located next to each other. Bacteria can come from the genitals, hands, and even the mouth of your partner. Urinating after sex can help flush any bacteria out of the urinary tract.
UTIs are also common in older women going through menopause. When a woman enters menopause, her body starts producing less of the hormone estrogen. This can change the tissue within the urinary tract, making it easier for bacteria to stick to the lining. UTIs can be confused with other symptoms of menopause, making it hard to diagnose.
How Periods and UTIs are Connected
Because so many women will get a UTI in their lifetime, it’s likely that one will strike during your period at some point. But it also may be that you’re more at risk of a UTI during your period. The first reason this can happen is that the production of the hormone estrogen is at its lowest during menstruation. As mentioned in the discussion on menopause, a lack of estrogen can lead to UTIs. When your estrogen levels are low during a period, your chances of getting a UTI can increase.
Another possible association is between periods and UTIs is that some women have sex more often during their period as they are less likely to get pregnant, leading to a sex-related UTI.
The stress that comes during a period can be another cause of UTIs. Our mental health and physical health are linked together. When you experience stress and anxiety during the hormonal shifts of menstruation, your body creates higher levels of cortisol, weakening the immune system and making it more difficult to fight off an infection.
The final connection between periods and UTIs comes from feminine health products like pads and tampons. These tools can hold and spread bacteria and can also encourage the growth of bacteria in trapped heat and moisture. This can also happen in underwear when it isn’t changed frequently.
During your period, it may be more difficult to know if you are also experiencing a UTI. Two of the common symptoms of a UTI are bloody urine and pelvic pain; however, it’s hard to detect blood in urine during a menstrual cycle, and pelvic pain can be confused as period cramps. Associations like this can make it hard to tell if someone has a UTI on top of their period. Paying attention to the other potential symptoms can help you determine what is going on.
Do UTIs Delay Periods?
There is often some concern about whether a UTI can delay or impact a period cycle. Because the two conditions happen in different systems in the body, there is no direct correlation. That means that having a UTI won’t impact the timing of your period or cause you to skip a cycle.
If you are noticing a significant delay in your period, there could be another health concern. While pregnancy is the most likely option, there are other reasons. Thyroid conditions, stress, extreme weight gain or loss, diabetes, and ovarian disease also impact period timing. If you are concerned about a delay in your period, take a pregnancy test to confirm that you aren’t pregnant, then speak to a doctor. They can help you determine the cause of your problem.
4 Ways to Prevent UTIs During Your Period
To prevent UTIs during your period, remember these techniques for prevention and avoiding additional complications.
1. Change Feminine Care Products Frequently
We’ve all been drilled on the importance of changing pads and tampons to avoid infections like toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Similarly, changing pads and tampons frequently can help reduce the chances of a UTI. As mentioned earlier, pads and tampons can hold bacteria and spread it into the urethra. Changing them reduces that risk.
2. Get the Right Kind of Feminine Care Product
It can be tempting to purchase feminine care products that have nice scents and soft textures. However, these can increase the risk of infection. Products with synthetic chemicals like scents can be irritating to your urinary system and leave it more prone to infection. Always look for cotton, chemical-free, and breathable pads and tampon products.
3. Practice Good Sexual Hygiene
Because UTIs can occur during sex, it’s important to have good sexual hygiene. Urinating after sexual activity can flush out any bacteria in the urinary system. This is true both during solo intimacy and sexual activity with a partner. If you’re prone to UTIs you might suggest to your partner that you start things off in the shower to avoiding sex-related infections.
4. Stay Hydrated
Hydration is important to managing both UTIs and periods. Drinking plenty of water helps to flush out your urinary tract and get rid of bacteria. And hydrating during a period can reduce bloating, swelling, and the pain of cramps.
When to Speak to a Doctor
Periods and UTIs might seem intrinsically linked, but they aren’t directly connected. While they can occur at the same time, a UTI shouldn’t significantly impact your period. If you feel as though you are experiencing severe symptoms of a UTI or period, speak to a doctor. Then you can get support and solutions best for your situation.
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