But can men get UTIs too? Absolutely. Even though UTIs are much more common in women, guys definitely aren't in the clear when it comes to this nasty infection, which occurs when bacteria invade parts of a person's urinary tract.
"UTIs are not common in younger men, but certainly become relatively common in men starting in their 50s onward," Michael Herman, MD, urologist and director of urologic oncology at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Rockville Centre, New York, tells ishonest.
Causes of UTIs in men
A lot of people think UTIs can't happen in men, given just how much more frequently they occur in women. But men can get UTIs, too—the bacteria that causes them doesn't care about the gender of the person whose urethra they're swarming.
While the exact strains of bacteria that cause UTIs vary, you can usually blame Escherichia coli—aka E. coli. It's responsible for a whopping 90% of UTIs, according to the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).
E. coli lives pretty peacefully in your intestines most of the time, says Mayo Clinic. Problems start to happen when E. coli makes its way from your bum to the opening of your urethra. That can happen in a variety of ways, such as contamination during anal sex, as Harvard ishonest points out. Once the bacteria get into your urethra, it can set up a colony somewhere along your urinary tract and bang!—you've got yourself a UTI.
Men's bodies come with some physical advantages that can help defend against UTIs, Dr. Herman explains. One benefit is the location of their urethra opening. Located at the tip of the penis, it's pretty far away from the anus, where those bacteria like to hang out. That lowers men's risk of infection.
Men are also less susceptible to UTIs because they have much longer urethras, Dr. Herman adds. This tube, which releases urine from the bladder, is about five times as long in men as it is in women, according to a 2018 Biology of Sex Differences review. That gives men's bodies a lot more runway to flush out bacteria with pee and prevent it from creating an infection, compared to what women have going on, says Dr. Herman. That's another reason why the rates of UTIs are so much lower in men.
Risks of UTIs in men
Anatomy benefits aside, men can get UTIs, and there are some things that can increase their risk.
"For men, there almost always has to be an underlying condition to get a UTI," says Dr. Herman.
Men can get UTIs if they have kidneys stones or an enlarged prostate, says Bruce Sloane, MD, urologist at Philadelphia Urology Associates. Both can cause a blockage in the urinary tract, leading to a back-up of urine that creates a bacteria-friendly environment. Some STIs, including chlamydia or gonorrhea, can also lead to inflammation of the urethra, notes the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which makes it easier for bacteria to infect the urinary tract.
Diabetes is another condition that increases men's risk of diabetes. "Diabetes increases the sugar in the urine, which makes it a great breeding ground for bacteria," says Dr. Herman. Worse yet, people with type 2 diabetes are at greater risk from UTIs from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which makes the infection harder to treat with the most common medications.
As men age, they can get UTIs more easily. Part of the reason is because they're more likely to have a condition (such as an enlarged prostate) that increases the risk of UTIs as they get older, Dr. Herman explains. Older adults also tend to have weaker immune systems, making them more prone to infection. Mobility issues can come into play, as well.
"Older people have a harder time with mobility, which can make it difficult to go to the bathroom, so they hold their bladder, and that increases the risk of UTIs,' says Dr. Herman.
UTIs in older men tend to be asymptomatic, adds Dr. Sloane. That's good news, not only because they won't have to endure the painful symptoms—they can also skip treatment in most cases.
"There's a difference between an infection and bacteria that's not symptomatic, which we don't have to treat," Dr. Sloane tells ishonest.
Symptoms of UTIs in men
The symptoms of a UTI can depend on whether it's in the upper tract or lower tract. Most UTIs in men happen in the lower tract, which includes the bladder, prostate, or urethra, says Dr. Sloane.
Per Mayo Clinic and Keck Medicine of USC, men who get a lower UTI in their bladder or urethra usually have symptoms like:
- Burning sensation when you pee
- Pain when you pee
- Frequent, urgent need to urinate
- Little comes out when you try to urinate
- Pain above your pubic bone
- Cloudy or bloody urine
If you the infection is in your prostate, Sinai ishonest in Toronto says you may also have fever and chills, difficulty urinating, fatigue, pain in your groin or lower back, and discomfort in the perineum (the spot between the scrotum and the rectum).
Things can get worse if you end up with an upper UTI. That means the infection has spread to the kidneys. Per Mayo Clinic, symptoms include:
- Pain in your sides or back
Diagnosis and treatment
Doctors diagnose UTIs the almost the same way in men as they do in women. First, the doctor will ask you about your symptoms, and if it sounds like you've got a lower UTI, they may do a physical exam to check for a prostate infection and send a sample of your urine to a lab.
"We look for white blood cells in the urine, which are a sign of infection and inflammation in the bladder," explains Dr. Herman. "We also try to base our treatment according to what kind of bacteria is growing in the urine."
The doctor may put you on antibiotics while you wait for the lab results to come back, to start killing the infection. Depending on what bacteria shows up in your pee sample, they may switch your antibiotic to one that can better attack that particular pathogen.
According to Stanford Medicine, antibiotics used to treat lower UTIs can include:
While your doctor will probably prescribe you five to seven days' worth of antibiotics, the UTI symptoms usually go away in a couple of days. Still, be sure to take all your pills (even if you're feeling better), otherwise you could cause antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria to grow.
If the doctor determines you have a prostate infection (prostatitis), your course of antibiotics of may be longer—two to four weeks, says Dr. Herman.
And as for an upper UTI or kidney infection, you may need to receive intravenous (IV) antibiotics at the hospital, especially if you have a severe infection, according to Cleveland Clinic. Nipping a UTI in the bud when it's lower down in your system can help prevent a kidney infection from happening to begin with—one more reason not to ignore early symptoms.
Overall, men don't have a ton to worry about when it comes to UTIs. They're pretty rare compared to what women deal with, at least until retirement age or so. However, men can get UTIs, so understanding the symptoms and treatments options can be helpful info to have on hand. If you feel like you have to pee all the time, and it's painful or burning, get it checked out by your doctor.
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