While they’re less common in men, urinary infections in men can bring up fears of prostate cancer. Stay calm. Your prostate gets bigger with age and can become infected.
Urinary infections in men are less common than in women, but more likely with age. Up to 90 percent of men have some kind of trouble with urination between the ages of 50 and 80. It’s easy to fear you are seeing the early signs of prostate cancer, but there are common benign causes of discomfort to rule out first.
Male infants, men with abnormal urinary tracts, and men using catheters are also vulnerable. The last group includes men in nursing homes and people with spinal cord injuries — often veterans or young men who survive motorcycle accidents.
What is a urinary infection?
Your urinary tract includes the kidneys, the ureters (tubes that drain urine to the kidney from the bladder), the bladder, and the urethra. Urine flows through the urethra and, in men, leaves the body at the urethral meatus, at the tip of the penis.
Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, involve any of these organs.
If you have a bladder infection, for example, you have an overgrowth of bacteria, almost always E. coli, in your bladder. Usually the bacteria travel up through the urethra. E. coli is a normal resident of your intestines, which is why the bacteria can spread to food if people don’t wash their hands.
Just like in women, the symptoms of urinary infections in men tend to include a burning sensation when you urinate and pain just above your pubic bone. You might not have pain but need to urinate frequently and sometimes suddenly. You might see blood in your urine.
When your kidneys are affected, you could have pain in your sides or back. It will persist even if you change position. You might have fever and chills, and nausea and vomiting.
One big difference between urinary infections in men and women: men aren’t likely to get an infection from vaginal sex with women. Another difference is that women have shorter urethras than men.
The main reason urinary infections in men increase with age: the prostate grows. The prostate, the gland that makes semen, starts about the size of a walnut in adult men. It wraps around the neck of the bladder, lying in front of your rectum. At some point an enlarged prostate may choke off the neck of the bladder. If you find you can’t empty your bladder completely, bacteria may settle in instead of being flushed out with your urine.
If the overgrowth reaches the prostate, you have prostatitis. Prostatitis tends to cause pain in the area between your rectum and scrotum. It could feel swollen and tender to the touch. One symptom is dribbling when you try to urinate. You may also have pain higher up in your pelvis.
The elderly sometimes complain only of feeling confused — and turn out to have a UTI. So make sure to rule out that common problem before further treatment.
When people get UTIs from catheters in hospitals, the bacterium causing the problem is usually P. mirabilis, not E. coli.
Steps you can take to avoid a urinary infection.
- Make sure you drink enough fluid every day. Water is best.
- Wear a condom during anal sex. E. coli are plentiful in the intestines and anal cavity. So anal sex will introduce E. coli to your penis, including the end of the urethra. A butt may look clean, but there are still plenty of bacteria there. If you don’t use a condom, or after you take it off, make sure to pee soon after sex to flush out any E. coli hanging out there (women prone to UTIs do this after vaginal sex).
- If you are uncircumcised, thoroughly clean the area beneath the foreskin each time you shower.
- When using toilet paper, wipe from front to back.
- Keep your genital area clean and dry.
Men with diabetes are more vulnerable and should be especially careful.
How to treat urinary infections
The standard first line of treatment is a prescription for antibiotics. There is also evidence backing a form of sugar called mannose for treating both E. coli and P. mirabilis UTIs — especially attractive to people who may suffer from taking antibiotics too often.
February 27, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN