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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : If a woman has a bladder infection, should her partner be evaluated as well?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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August 24, 2012
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A:

It’s usually not necessary for a woman’s partner to be evaluated when she has a typical urinary tract infection (UTI), such as a bladder infection.

Women are much more prone than men to develop UTIs. That’s because most UTIs start when bacteria enter the urinary tract from the skin on the outside of the body. A woman’s urethra (urine tube) is much shorter than a man’s urethra. This means that bacteria need to travel a shorter distance to get inside the bladder.

Furthermore, most UTIs aren’t passed from one sexual partner to another. Instead, the bacteria that cause UTIs normally live inside a person’s bowel. Testing a partner for bacteria won’t cut a woman’s chances of developing a second UTI. Nor will treating that person with an antibiotic.

A couple things to consider:

  • Some women appear prone to develop urinary infections after sexual intercourse. This is particularly true with vigorous or frequent sex. Or sex with a new partner. This is likely caused by irritation at the opening of the urethra, which sits at the front upper end of the vulva (outer portion or “lips” of a woman’s reproductive organs). In these situations, it can be helpful to change sexual positions, ensure adequate hygiene, and take an antibiotic immediately before or after sex.
  • Infection of the urethra itself, called urethritis, can be a sexually transmitted condition. Most often this is caused by a sexually transmitted bacterium called chlamydia. Your doctor may diagnose urethritis if you have a sore or tender urethra. Or if there is a discharge from the opening of the urethra. Men can get this condition too. A special urine test can confirm a specific cause for urethritis. If you test positive for sexually transmitted bacteria, you and your partner(s) will need to be treated.

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