April 25th, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Why do I keep getting urinary tract infections?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.

Question asked by Elizabeth of Sacramento, California:

I've had 11 urinary tract infections in 13 months and the doctors only give me antibiotics. What is causing this to happen to me? I am scared it could be something really bad. What can I do?

Expert answer:

I do not know the details of your situation but can offer some information about recurrent urinary tract infections (UTI) in women.

A UTI is any infection (usually caused by bacteria) of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. While repeated infections are often found in healthy women, they may signal a problem with the anatomy or function of a woman's urinary tract.

Abnormalities of the urinary system may be found using imaging studies such as an X-ray, ultrasound or CT scan.

Certain practices such as infrequent or incomplete voiding, sexual intercourse (particularly with the use of spermicides), and poor hygiene can lead to repeated urinary tract infections.

Conditions such as diabetes, pregnancy and neurological disorders can also increase a person's risk for UTI.

To avoid further infections it can be helpful to urinate frequently and drink plenty of fluids. Some physicians recommend taking probiotics to help prevent UTIs, and for some women an oral antibiotic daily or after sexual intercourse may be necessary.

Research studies have not confirmed theories that wearing tights or panty hose, wiping improperly after using the toilet, douching, or using hot tubs may increase infections, although avoiding such practices probably wouldn't hurt.

For concerns about your own situation, I encourage you to talk to your doctor to see if additional testing, treatment or a consultation with a specialist might be helpful. Good luck!

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.