How to Prevent UTIs In Individuals With Incontinence

A crucial aspect of incontinence care for you, or your loved ones, involves keeping the skin clean and comfortable to prevent common infections, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs). While UTIs are fairly common for most people, those with incontinence have a higher susceptibility to infections, which can lead to further complications if left untreated.

What Is a UTI?

A urinary tract infection occurs when any part of the urinary system including the bladder, urethra, or kidneys becomes infected with a pathogen (usually bacteria). UTIs are caused when bacteria from the anal, genital, or vaginal areas travel from the urethra into the bladder. Women are often at higher risk for urinary tract infections secondary to having a shorter urethra.

UTI causes include poor hygiene, sexual activities, diabetes, difficulty emptying the bladder, catheter usage, kidney stones, blocked urine flow, urinary incontinence, scented feminine products, and compromised immune systems.

It is critical for caregivers to assist with changes into clean incontinence products as well as properly cleaning the skin if an accident occurs. Keeping the skin clean and dry will prevent the spread of bacteria while preventing skin irritation.

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Symptoms of a UTI

  • Pain or burning sensation when urinating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Frequent urination or the strong, constant urge to urinate
  • Releasing small amounts of urine at a time (unable to fully empty bladder)
  • Urine that is cloudy or bloody
  • Feeling fatigued or dizzy
  • Having a fever, chills, or nausea (this may indicate that the infection has reached the kidneys)

For older adults, if left untreated, UTI side effects may include: 

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Incontinence or a sudden increase in incontinence symptoms

If urinary tract infection (UTI) symptoms are suspected, it is important to ensure that you, or your loved one, visits a healthcare provider. The clinician will need a urine sample to confirm the presence of bacteria and assess any other risk factors. If the bacteria is present in the urinalysis, the provider will likely prescribe antibiotic treatment to kill the bacterial infection. It is critical to make sure the course of antibiotics is completely finished, even if your loved one starts feeling better before the cycle is over. In some cases, pain medication may be prescribed, but patients can also take an NSAID (Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drug) to reduce fever, pain, and inflammation.

  • A lower UTI infection occurs when the organs in the lower urinary tract, such as the bladder and urethra, become infected.
  • An upper UTI infection occurs when the infection spreads to the kidneys. This type of infection can cause complications such as permanent damage that reduces kidney function. The bacteria can also spread to other organs causing sepsis (a blood infection), which is why catching and treating UTIs early is important in preventing hospitalization.

Home Remedies for UTIs

Along with antibiotic use, some individuals have found relief with: 

Vitamin C. Studies suggest Vitamin C increases the acidity of the urine to kill off bacteria. Vitamin C can be found in fruits and vegetables like red peppers, oranges, and kiwis.

Probiotics. Probiotics can promote a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut with beneficial microorganisms. Lactobacillus is a common probiotic strain that has been linked to preventing UTIs. Probiotics are found in supplements, yogurt, kefir, and some cheeses.

Cranberry. Cranberry has also been shown to prevent urinary tract infections. Research shows that cranberry aids in preventing bacterial binding to host cell surface membranes in the urinary tract, limiting the ability for the bacteria to stick to the walls of the bladder, which causes infection. Concentrated cranberry capsules, as opposed to cranberry juice, are recommended. 300mg-400mg twice daily is the recommended dose.

Preventing Urinary Tract Infections

Preventing UTIs in those with incontinence is fairly simple by maintaining proper hygiene and by making a few simple changes with adopting a healthier lifestyle. 

  • Don’t let your loved one remain in soiled incontinence products for long periods of time.
  • Remove incontinence products from front to back.
  • Wipe the genital area from front to back to avoid spreading bacteria.
  • Use a gentle, unscented soap to wash the area and rinse well with warm water.
  • Keep the area dry. Bacteria grows better in moist areas.
  • Use breathable incontinence products that are moisture-wicking.
  • If able, make sure your loved one makes it to the toilet in time.
  • Set up their bathroom with the necessary safety and assistant products for a comfortable voiding position.
  • Encourage double voiding by having them stand up and sit down to use the bathroom about three times to fully empty the bladder.
  • Avoid constipation with a diet full of fiber, water, and nutrients. Make sure your loved one gets plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Make sure your loved one stays hydrated with enough fluids (especially water) to flush out bacteria.

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Dr. Aleece Fosnight

Aleece Fosnight, MSPAS, PA-C, CSC-S, CSE, NCMP, IF is a Medical Advisor and Writer for Aeroflow Urology and a board-certified physician assistant specializing in sexual medicine, women’s health, and urology. In 2019, she opened up her own private practice, the Fosnight Center for Sexual Health, and implemented the sexual health grand rounds curriculum at her local hospital and residency program.

Aleece is also the founder of the Fosnight Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and training of professionals in the sexual health field and providing funding for access to healthcare services in her local community.

Information provided on the Aeroflow Urology blog is not intended as a substitute to medical advice or care from a healthcare professional. Aeroflow recommends consulting your healthcare provider if you are experiencing medical issues relating to incontinence.