Are UTIs Genetic?

Raise your hand if you suffer from chronic urinary tract infections (UTIs). We know we're supposed to use the bathroom after intercourse, and we do, but this isn't a surefire way to prevent a UTI.

When one infection follows another, it's hard not to wonder if maybe we're doing something wrong. As it turns out, there are a whole bunch of reasons we can get recurrent UTIs, and one of them might have to do with our genetics.

As is detailed by Utiva Health, a recurrent UTI is defined by 2 positive urine cultures within 6 months or 3 positive urine cultures within a year. A 2013 study published in Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal reported that 50-60% of all women will have 1 UTI at some point in their lives. While a far fewer number will experience recurrent UTIs (RUTIs), 95% of recurring cases can be attributed to reinfection. In other words, persistent bacteria are not eliminated through treatment and continue to grow when treatment ends.

Common causes of recurrent UTIs

Some of the most common causes of recurrent UTIs have pretty simple explanations. According to the Office on Women's Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the inherent structure of the female anatomy makes women 30 times more likely to get UTIs than men. With a shorter urethra that is located in close proximity to the vagina and anus, it's extremely common for unwanted bacteria to find their way into the urinary tract. Sex can also shake things up and introduce foreign bacteria to the area.

Menopause is another probable culprit, as it can alter both the urinary tract lining and the body's pH, making a more fertile breeding ground for bacteria (per the Harvard Medical School). However, research is now pointing toward genetics as a possible risk factor for developing UTIs as well. Some studies suggest that certain individuals are born with cell receptors that are more receptive to bacteria, and these receptors can be inherited, according to Utiva Health.

A 2010 study published in BioMed Research International found that 6 out of 14 genes investigated in humans might have influence over how susceptible we are to developing recurrent UTIs.

Taking precautionary measures to prevent UTIs

Just because you might have a genetic disposition for UTIs doesn't mean that you're doomed to suffer from them for all eternity. There's plenty of precautions you can take that will help prevent painful UTIs in the future, and all of them require very little adjustment to your daily routine. 

Make sure to drink lots of water — the more you pee, the more often your body is able to clear the urinary tract of bad bacteria. Drinking 6-8 glasses per day is optimal, per Utiva Health. Adding a D-mannose supplement to your daily vitamin regimen may help keep E. Coli at bay, preventing it from causing infection. You may also want to make the switch to cotton panties and keep some UTI test strips on hand — the sooner you detect a UTI, the quicker you can begin receiving the proper treatment. Contact your doctor if you have recurring UTIs and want to explore your treatment and prevention options.