Women often develop urinary tract infections (UTIs). Most UTIs are easily treated with no lasting effects. However, some infections can affect fertility.
What Are UTIs?
The urinary system includes the bladder, urethra, kidneys, and ureters. A bacterial infection can form in any of these. For most women, infections occur in the lower part of the urinary tract. This will not affect fertility since the lower urinary tract is completely separate from the reproductive organs.
Without treatment, the UTI can spread to the upper part of the urinary system. This type of UTI is much more serious and can make it difficult to conceive if the kidneys are affected. It’s possible for the kidneys to be permanently damaged. More serious infections can lead to sepsis and organ failure.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, about 90 percent of UTI cases occur because of E. coli, which is also found in the intestines. Doctors frequently tell female patients to wipe from front to back when they use the bathroom because wiping in that direction reduces the risk that bacteria will travel to the urethra. Some studies, such as one published in New Microbiologica in 2016, have suggested a link between E. coli infections and fertility issues. While this hasn’t been fully proven or extensively studied, it’s something to keep in mind when trying to conceive.
Symptoms to Watch For
A course of antibiotics will typically knock out a urinary tract infection before it can spread and cause fertility issues. This makes it important to see a doctor as soon as the symptoms appear.
The typical bladder infection causes pressure or cramps in the pelvic area. Urination can be painful or cause a burning sensation. Having to urinate frequently or feeling the urge to urinate without actually urinating are both common. A discharge sometimes occurs. This type of lower urinary tract infection does not typically affect a woman’s ability to conceive.
Vomiting, chills, fever, back pain, side pain, and shaking are signs that the bacteria has traveled to the upper urinary tract and kidneys. This is the type of infection that can affect conception.
Fertility and Conception Complications
Pregnant women are more likely to develop infections. This happens because of the way the body changes beginning around the sixth week of pregnancy. The bigger the uterus gets, the more it can block urine from correctly leaving the bladder. When treated quickly, it shouldn’t affect the baby or future chances to conceive. However, when the kidneys get infected, the risk of going into labor early increases. A kidney infection can also lower the baby’s birth weight, cause preeclampsia, or lead to a miscarriage. Additionally, according to the Mayo Clinic, women who have one miscarriage have a 14-percent chance of miscarrying again.
Upper urinary tract infections may also cause fertility issues for women who aren’t already pregnant. Kidneys that don’t return to normal develop chronic kidney disease. This affects ovulation, resulting in infrequent periods. Having infrequent periods makes it difficult to track when you’re ovulating, which means it isn’t clear when to try for a baby. If the UTI causes serious kidney damage, getting pregnant can even be dangerous for the mother.
If the bacteria from a urinary tract infection travels to the reproductive system, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This disease shares many of the same symptoms as a UTI, such as pelvic pain and urination issues. Left untreated, PID can cause scars in the fallopian tubes, which will prevent pregnancy. It may also cause ectopic pregnancies.
It’s possible to reduce the risk of developing a urinary tract infection. This includes drinking lots of water, emptying the bladder after sex, and practicing proper hygiene.
Sexual activity increases the risk of getting an infection. It’s sometimes helpful to change the type of birth control you use. Diaphragms, for example, can cause bacteria to grow.
Many feminine hygiene products contribute to an increase of bacteria in the urinary tract. Avoid any product that irritates the urethra.