Urinary Tract Infections in Post-Menopause Women with Vaginitis Eased by Estrogen
Back in high school biology we all learned that there are many different organ systems in the body–the circulatory system, the respiratory system, the reproductive system, the urinary system and so forth. I think of them as having separate organs and operating differently. So it never made sense to me that something that had to do with the reproductive system (sex) would affect the urinary system (urinary tract infections). But Oh How wrong I was.
Just about every young woman who begins her adult sexual life, no matter what her age, has dealt with the dreaded urinary tract infection (watch a UTI video), often as a result of sexual activity.
But why? My anatomy & physiology classes have come in handy; now I know that the urethra, which carries urine from your bladder to the point where it is excreted, is really, really close to the opening of the vagina, both of which are right above the opening of the anus, where your solid waste is excreted. Bacteria that’s hanging around one opening (or introduced by your sexual partner) is likely to be introduced to another opening, and there you have it. Bacteria travels up the urethra to the bladder, and sometimes on up the ureter to the kidney. So the systems are intertwined.
Recurrent urinary tract infections can be awfully annoying–the symptoms are a frequent or urgent need to pee. Sometimes you just can’t keep it in, and you “leak,” called incontinence, and many women think that as they age, that incontinence (and adult diapers) are down the road.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. As a menopausal woman’s estrogen levels drop, it turns out you are more likely to get a UTI. And this has an easy solution for post-menopausal women who suffer from vaginitis (or irritation to the vaginal area) that is caused by low estrogen; topically applied estrogen. Your doctor or medical care provider can determine whether this is the case for you, so be sure to talk to her/him if you are having UTIs or their symptoms. A urethra that is thinning (which apparently can be felt) can be easily fixed up with a prescription for estrogen cream.
Other suggestions: Be sure to drink plenty of water if you suspect a UTI, stop caffeine for several days, because caffeine irritates the bladder, and drink cranberry juice as it makes the bladder and urethra less hospitable to bacteria. Might not be a bad idea to put unsweetened cranberry juice on your grocery list and have a glass a day. I mix it half and half with seltzer and a squeeze of lime, some ice cubes, and imagine I’m on an island someplace warm. With Thanksgiving coming up, work on getting some real cranberries into your holiday, not the canned stuff. Homemade cranberry sauce is divine.
I’ll tackle the urinary incontinence issue soon; I’m doing some more research.
PS - I wrote in my last message that I was going to try boric acid for my yeast infection. I have a confession–I chickened out. I just couldn’t put a capsule of boric acid into my vagina, it seemed too weird. Maybe if it had a different name than acid I could do it. I doubled up on the yogurt, cut down on the sugary sodas and candy and my symptoms got a lot better. If any of you have tried the boric acid route, will you let me know? I’d really like to know if it works.
Toni wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Menopause.