Vaginal Estrogen Can Help Fight UTIs

Patient Expert

Completing menopause can trigger regular urinary tract infections (UTIs), which are an infection in any part of the urinary system (including the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra). Most of these infections involve the lower urinary tract, which is made up of the bladder and the urethra. These infections can be painful if it only affects the bladder. However, a UTI that spread to the kidneys can have serious consequences.

However, a new study suggests that a specific type of hormone replacement may be useful in fighting UTIs. The study out of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests that taking vaginal estrogen can serve as a preventive measure in stopping urinary tract infections among postmenopausal women.

In this study, researchers used animal models to identify ways that estrogen could stop recurring tract infections.   Additionally, they used cells taken from postmenopausal women who had taken supplementary vaginal estrogen over a two-week period. Their analysis found that estrogen triggers the production of antimicrobial substances that occur naturally in the bladder and also strengthens the urinary tract tissue through closing gaps between cells in the bladder, thus making it difficult for bacteria to invade the baller wall. Additionally, estrogen keeps the bladder from shedding too many cells from its top wall layers. Finally, estrogen encourages cells to be redistributed and helps the bladder retain important cells during a bladder infection.

Let's first look at risk factors. According to the Mayo Clinic, these factors include:

  • Being a female. We have a shorter urethra, which shortens the distance that bacteria need to travel to reach a bladder.
  • Being sexually active. Women who are sexually active tend to have more UTIs.
  • Having abnormalities of the urinary tract. People who have abnormalities that don't allow bacteria to exit the body normally or cause urine to back up in the urethra are more prone to UTis.
  • Having urinary tract blockages. Kidney stones can trap urine and increase the risk of UTis.
  • Experiencing a suppressed immune system through diabetes and other diseases. These conditions can increase the risk of UTIs.
  • -Using a catheter to urinate. People who have to use a catheter to urinate often have an increased risk of UTIs.

So are there other ways to prevent UTIs? The Mayo Clinic recommends the following:

  • Drink lots of water. This move will help dilute the urine and cause you to urinate frequently, which will flush the bacteria from the urinary tract before an infection can start.
  • Wipe yourself with bathroom tissue from front to back. This movement will prevent bacteria that are located in the anal region from spreading to the urethra and vagina.
  • Make sure that you empty your bladder soon after sex and drink a full glass of water in order to flush bacteria.
  • Avoid feminine products such as douches and powders that can irritate the urethra.

There are alternative medication choices you can make to deal with UTIs. The primary one is to drink cranberry juice, which may have some infection-fighting properties. Drinking it daily may fight UTIs. However, note that cranberry juice can interact with the blood-thinning medication warfarin and ultimately cause bleeding.

Additionally, you should avoid drinks such as soft drinks containing citrus juices and caffeine, coffee and alcohol that can irritate the bladder. A warm heating pad placed on the abdomen also can minimize bladder pressure and discomfort.

UTIs can be a regular part of the menopausal transition, but taking appropriate steps - whether taking hormone replacement or other steps - can stop them.   Work with your doctor to take the appropriate steps in an effort to help you avoid this situation.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

Hannan, T. J. (2013). Estrogen and recurrent UTI: What are the facts? Science Translational Medicine.

Mayo Clinic. (2012). Urinary tract infections.

Medline Plus. (2013). How estrogen may help prevent urinary tract infections after menopause.