Stress affects your health in countless ways. When stress is short-term, like the stress before a performance, a test, or a job interview, the effects probably won’t harm your health.

But when stress carries on too long or is too severe, it can change how your body functions. Chronic stress can make you vulnerable to serious health problems. Research shows that too much stress can cause:

While there’s no clear evidence that stress by itself can trigger a urinary tract infection (UTI), stress may affect your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections. Stress can also amplify some symptoms of lower urinary tract disorders.

A UTI is inflammation in your bladder, kidneys, or the tubes that connect them (ureters). Most of the time, UTIs are caused by the bacteria E. coli. UTIs can also be caused by other microbes, including:

  • klebsiella pneumoniae
  • staphylococcus saprophyticus
  • proteus mirabilis
  • enterococcus faecalis
  • group B strep
  • candida spp
  • pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • staphylococcus aureus

You may have a higher risk of UTI if you have:

  • frequent sex
  • changes to the structure of your vagina or vulva from age or injury
  • changes in the flora of your vagina
  • family or personal history of UTIs
  • blockage such as a kidney stone or an enlarged prostate
  • used a catheter
  • used vaginal diaphragms with spermicide
  • a non-secretor blood type

While stress doesn’t directly cause an infection, stress can lower the effectiveness of your body’s natural resistance to infection and illness.

When you experience stress, your body produces a hormone called cortisol. If too much cortisol is present for too long, your body can’t fight infection or lower inflammation as well as it usually does. A damaged immune system can lead to chronic infections.

Stress and urinary tract health have a two-way relationship. Stress can depress the immune system, leading to infection. Infection or disease can increase the stress you feel.

A 2017 review of studies found that people with urinary tract conditions experience higher levels of psychological stress, which can worsen symptoms.

Depending on where your UTI is and what exactly is causing it, you could notice some of these symptoms:

  • pain, stinging, or burning when you urinate
  • sore lower back or abdomen
  • fever
  • urine that’s cloudy, bloody, or dark
  • increase in the number of times you need to urinate
  • greater urgency in the need to urinate

Anxiety and stress can cause — or worsen — several other lower urinary tract symptoms, even when no infection is present.

For example, people who have overactive bladder (OAB), a condition that causes you to urinate more often, have significantly higher stress than people without the condition, according to one 2015 study.

When stress goes up, so does the sense of urgency you feel about having to urinate. Stress can also cause symptoms of a chronic urinary condition called interstitial cystitis (IC) to flare up.

In a 2019 study involving children and teens with lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS), researchers found that around 20 percent had significantly higher stress than those without symptoms. Their stress, in turn, led to more severe symptoms.

That’s how the link between stress and UTI symptoms is intertwined: Chronic stress can weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infection or urinary tract symptoms. Then, the symptoms themselves raise your stress more.

If your UTI is caused by a bacterial infection, the most common treatment is antibiotics. A healthcare professional might also prescribe pain medication.

If you have frequent UTIs, you may want to try some of these strategies for preventing them:

  • Stay well-hydrated. Water is essential for a healthy urinary system.
  • If you’re a person with a vagina, avoid using scented products in or near your vaginal area.
  • Urinate as soon as you feel the need — don’t hold it.
  • Urinate right before and right after sex.
  • Try unsweetened cranberries or unsweetened cranberry juice. The evidence on their effectiveness is mixed, but the unsweetened varieties have lots of health benefits.
  • Talk to a healthcare professional about whether your birth control method could be the reason for your UTI.
  • Take (or eat) a probiotic containing lactobacilli, a bacteria that promotes urinary health.

The research is clear: Lowering your stress can strengthen your body’s immune response. Here are several science-backed methods for lowering stress and boosting natural immunity:

  • cognitive behavioral stress management
  • meditation and mindfulness training
  • yoga
  • physical activity and exercise

Any time you have a question about your urinary health, it’s okay to talk to a healthcare professional. It’s especially important to address symptoms of a urinary tract infection early because an infection in your bladder can spread to your ureters and kidneys.

An untreated UTI can also lead to urosepsis, an infection that’s spread to other body systems and which can cause organ failure and death. Around 25 percent of sepsis cases begin in the urinary tract.

It’s also a good idea to talk to a trusted healthcare professional if you think stress is affecting your health. Lowering stress isn’t just good for your urinary system; it’s good for your mind and the rest of your body systems, too.

Stress by itself doesn’t cause UTIs, but it can make you more susceptible to infections and other illnesses by harming your immune system. Stress can also trigger or worsen urinary tract symptoms — even if you don’t have a UTI.

Your urinary system is vital to your overall health. If you think stress may be interfering with your urinary health, you can talk to a doctor or healthcare professional about your risks, prevention strategies, and treatments.

You can also make it a priority to lower stress in your life through meditation, yoga, and psychotherapy.