Can a UTI mess with your period?

The ‘period’ or menstrual period is that ‘time of the month’ both anticipated and dreaded by women. It signifies the end of a menstrual cycle where pregnancy does not occur and the beginning of a new cycle. Several factors like the heaviness of a period, presence of cramps, and the associated symptoms determine how women react to their periods. A study among women reports that women who bleed a lot describe a reduced quality of life, where almost a quarter refrain from social activities because of bleeding, according to the study. Over 90 per cent of these women find the bleeding to be bothersome and a higher percentage feel shabby. Furthermore, 16 per cent of the women with heavy bleeding report that they are off sick from work due to this, some providing figures between six and ten days per year. Even women who describe their bleeding as “normal” are affected by their periods. Of these, about two per cent refrain from social activities and as many are home from work for up to five days per year because of the bleeding. Nearly eight out of ten women with normal bleeding find their period to be bothersome and even more find it makes them feel shabby.

The issues associated with periods underscore the importance of having predictable, regular periods. Generally, regular periods are a sign that the reproductive system of the female body is working normally and is disease free. Irregular and unpredictable periods can be very stressful. These menstrual issues can mess with a woman’s mental health, especially painful periods (dysmenorrhea). Menstrual issues are linked to numerous mental health conditions such as fatigue, depression, and anxiety. The stress, social phobia, anxiety, and depression are usually due to the embarrassment developed from menstruation problems.

What are Irregular or abnormal periods?

The periods are considered irregular if the menstrual cycle is shorter or longer than average. This means that the time from the first day of the last period up to the start of the next period is less than 21 days or more than 35 days. It can also be irregular if the cycle length varies by more than 20 days from month to month. An example would be your cycle jumping from a normal 25-day cycle to a 46-day cycle the next month and then back to a 25-day cycle the following month. On the other hand, an abnormal period occurs if the characteristics of the period varies more than the average for an individual. For example, a person who uses about 7 slightly soaked pads during a period begins to use much more fully soaked pads with blood clots and clumps. In summary, after a ‘normal’ pattern of bleeding has been established in an individual, any variation in the length, quantity, character, appearance, even smell of the period can be considered to be abnormal for the individual. Therefore, some periods that are considered ‘abnormal’ by some women’s standards may actually not be abnormal in the strictest definition but can cause anxiety for such women.

For example, teenagers and early adolescents have irregular periods and this is usually considered normal although they women may consider them ‘abnormal’. Such women are usually reassured as the period will become more regular as they get older. The same goes for the peri-menopausal women who are about to stop menstruation (menopause). Their periods will become irregular, until it also stops completely in menopause.

What can cause irregular or abnormal periods?

Irregular periods or abnormal periods can be caused by several factors and disease conditions. These factors include: Eating disorders like anorexia and Bulimia; thyroid problems, like hyperthyroidism; when there are high amounts of prolactin in the blood (hyperprolactinemia); certain medications such as those for epilepsy or anxiety; Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS); Primary ovarian insufficiency which happens when the ovaries stop working normally before age 40; uncontrolled diabetes, obesity, and stress. Other causes of abnormal periods include tumors of the reproductive tract like fibroids, polyps; and cancers like endometrial and ovarian cancer. Infections of the reproductive organs like the Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can also cause irregular and abnormal periods. PID is most often caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Other infections can cause a generalized sickness (sepsis) can also affect the period.

 What is a urinary tract infection(UTI)?

A UTI is caused by infection in any part of the urinary tract. The urinary tract includes two kidneys, two ureters, a bladder, and a urethra (the ‘pipe’ that urine comes from). The infection is usually by bacteria. The bacteria usually reach the urethra from the anus where they cause infection. They easily migrate up to the bladder to cause infection (Cystitis). In more serious cases, they can reach the ureters, and kidneys and cause more serious infections (Pyelonephritis). Women are more predisposed to UTI because of the closer location of their urethra to the anus than men and also because of its shorter length.

A UTI causes symptoms like frequent, painful urination, discomfort while urinating, cloudy urine which may be foul smelling. It also causes blood in urine occasionally, pelvic pain in women, and fever, chills, and irritability mostly in children.

Can a UTI mess with a period?

The unique position of female urethra, which is about inch in front of the vagina makes it easy for bacteria to be pushed into the urethra during sexual intercourse. In fact, most causes of UTI is due to dislodged bacteria from the anus pushed into the urethra during sexual intercourse. This may raise the fear that a UTI is related to the period and can mess with the period. However, despite the close proximity of the urethra and the vagina, the urinary tract is totally different from the reproductive tract where the vagina belongs to and except in diseased conditions that cause abnormal contact, there is usually no contact or communication between the two systems. This means that a UTI cannot mess with your period and cannot directly cause an abnormal or irregular period.

What is the link between UTI and abnormal periods?

As has been mentioned, there is no direct link between a UTI and abnormal period. However, an extrapolation can be in rare cases where an untreated UTI causes generalized infection (urosepsis). A generalized infection means a person is very sick, which can even be life threatening and in this state, the period can become irregular. Urosepsis however is commoner in children and the elderly and at these extremes of age, women are often either too young or too old to have periods. However, in adult women who have their immunity suppressed due to other diseases or medications, urosepsis can occur and a woman can have abnormal period.

Also, during the periods, there are some changes in the body like reduced estrogens that makes a woman more susceptible to infections, including a UTI. Also the reduction in the protective bacteria of the vagina and presence of blood in the perineal region during periods, may make the area friendlier for bacteria which can now migrate to the urethra and cause a UTI. This is especially true for women with poor menstrual hygiene or who have sex during the menstrual period. In this context, the periods lead to a UTI, not the other way round.

The symptoms of a UTI can also be discomforting and cause stress and anxiety as the woman keeps on passing frequent, painful urinations. This state of stress can also affect the period.

So technically, if you think your UTI is delaying your period, it may be the stress, and anxiety associated with the UTI, not the UTI, messing with your period. If your period continues to delay or becomes abnormal, please see your doctor.