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  • More than 150 million women worldwide have urinary tract infections (UTIs) each year.
  • Researchers from two healthcare companies report that more than half of women with UTIs experience declining sleep, exercise, and sexual intimacy.
  • Scientists also found women who have recurring UTIs see a decrease in their health-related quality of life and workplace productivity.

An estimated more than 150 million women worldwide have urinary tract infections (UTIs) each year.

Although UTI is a treatable condition, it can cause various symptoms impacting a person’s daily life. Past research shows recurring UTIs can impact a woman’s self-esteem and relationships. And a 2022 study reported women with recurring UTIs experience negative emotions, including worry, frustration, and anger.

A new study from researchers at healthcare companies Cerner Enviza and GSK has found that more than half of women with UTIs experience a decline in sleep, exercise, and sexual intimacy. And recurrent UTIs caused a decrease in health-related quality of life.

The study appears in the journal PLoS ONE.

Bacteria cause the majority of UTIs. In typical conditions, bacteria that enter the urethra are flushed out. However, sometimes this doesn’t happen, and the bacteria can travel to the bladder, resulting in a UTI.

Symptoms of a UTI include:

While a UTI can happen to any woman, some are at a higher risk for developing UTIs than others. These include women who:

There are two main types of UTIs. According to Dr. Jennifer Linehan, a urologist and associate professor of urology and urologic oncology at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, an uncomplicated UTI occurs when someone gets a UTI without any mitigating factors and is treatable with antibiotics.

“A complicated UTI (may occur in someone) who has altered anatomy, may have a catheter in, may have kidney stones, or obstruction of the urinary tract at some point,” Dr. Linehan explained to Medical News Today. “Or perhaps they have a fistula that’s causing the UTI. All those things are complicated.”

For this study, researchers conducted an online survey of 375 women aged 18 and over from the United States. All of them had experienced a UTI in the past 60 days with a prescription of one or more oral antibiotics.

The survey included questions regarding how UTIs impacted the participants’ activities, health-related quality of life, workplace productivity, healthcare resource use, and costs.

Upon analysis, researchers found 66.9% of participants experienced impaired sexual intercourse, 60.8% impaired sleep, and 52.3% impaired ability to exercise.

Participants with UTIs also had increased work productivity and activity impairment and experienced higher medical costs.

“As a woman who gets UTIs, I can attend to the fact that it is very difficult to work and very difficult to sleep, and it is even more difficult to exercise if you have a UTI,” Dr. Linehan explained. “The feeling to urinate, like the burning, etc. that happens with a UTI is one of the most noxious stimuli to the brain. And one of the reasons that I know that is when I am operating on patients, doing simple things like even a camera into the bladder, if I overfill the bladder, the patient will literally start waking up from anesthesia. That is how noxious the stimuli is to the brain.”

“So when you’re in the midst of UTI, it’s a really intense infection (and) it is markedly uncomfortable,” she added. “You can’t think or do anything else but deal with that.”

MNT also spoke with Dr. S. Adam Ramin, a urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles, CA, about this study. He was also not surprised by the findings.

“(These findings) essentially makes everyone understand that UTI is not a disease process that should be taken lightly,” Dr. Ramin explained. “It’s important that we pay attention to our patient’s symptoms and act accordingly in terms of treatment.”

However, Dr. Ramin stressed that this study was self-reported, where participants reported they had a UTI.

“We know that there are a certain percentage of patients in whom there is no true urinary tract infection, but the symptoms of a UTI exist,” he said. “It wasn’t so parsed out in this study in terms of whether these patients truly had a UTI or not, although they were all treated with antibiotics. We also know that many doctors treat patients with symptoms of UTI without doing a urine culture.”

For this reason, Dr. Ramin said it would be good to have a study of people with UTIs diagnosed by culture. And suggested also including participants who may have a UTI diagnosed by culture but are not symptomatic.

“Obviously the ones who are symptomatic are the ones who are going to have lower quality of life as well,” he explained. “If there was going to be future studies, we would want to see possibly the quality of life impact on patients who may not be symptomatic or may not necessarily know they have a UTI unless the culture had been done.”