7 Tips to Help Prevent a Urinary Tract Infection
A urinary tract infection (UTI) refers to an infection that develops in any part of the urinary system, which includes the urethra, bladder, kidneys and ureters, which connect the bladder to the kidneys. According to the Mayo Clinic, most infections occur in the lower urinary tract, which includes the bladder and the urethra.
Anyone can get a UTI. Due to their anatomy, however, women have a greater risk of developing one. Some common symptoms of a urinary tract infection include:
- A sudden or persistent urge to urinate
- Painful, burning sensation while urinating
- Urine with an abnormally strong scent
- Frequent urination in small amounts
- Cloudy urine
- Bloody urine that can range in color from bright pink to red to dark brown
- Pelvic pain
Keep in mind any new medications you have started and talk to your doctor about any new symptoms, because they can present similarly to UTI symptoms sometimes.
An uncomplicated UTI is typically treated with oral antibiotics and does not require a hospital stay. An untreated urinary tract infection, however, can spread to the kidneys and require more extensive treatment, including antibiotics administered directly into the vein through an IV, and sometimes hospitalization if the infection spreads into the bloodstream.
If you've ever experienced a urinary tract infection, you know it can be annoying at best and painful at worst. Fortunately, you can take practical steps to help protect yourself from developing a UTI in the future. Check out seven we've highlighted.
1. Pee before and after sex
This common piece of advice might be more important than you think. During sex, bacteria, whether from your own body or your partner's, are more likely to get into the urethra, which can lead to a urinary tract infection. Urinating before sex can help flush out any bacteria already existing in the urethra, and doing so afterward helps flush out any new bacteria that was introduced during your encounter.
2. Maintain cleanliness
In general, make sure you adequately and regularly wash your genital area to get rid of much of the bacteria that put you at risk for a UTI. Take a couple of minutes to do so before and after sex, which will further reduce your chance of infection. For further prevention, launder clothes and wear clean clothes and underwear. And if you're going on a trip or hiking or camping where you won't have access to cleaning facilities for a long period of time, ask your doctor for antibiotics as a preventive measure.
3. Drink plenty of water
Drinking enough water throughout the day dilutes your urine and makes you urinate more frequently, which helps your body flush bacteria from your urinary tract more often and, thus, helps you avoid infection.
4. Wipe from front to back
Wiping from front to back after urinating helps reduce the chance that bacteria from the anal region will spread to the vagina and urethra, which can cause a UTI. You may want to consider installing a bidet in your bathroom, as well; this device is no longer an exotic mystery, and many cheap and easy-to-install models are available.
5. Ditch feminine products that irritate
Douches, deodorant sprays, powders, and scented pads and tampons can irritate the urethra and increase your risk for developing a UTI. Since the vagina naturally cleanses itself internally, medical experts recommend that women wash it only externally with gentle soap.
6. Consider switching birth control
Diaphragms, unlubricated condoms or condoms that are treated with spermicide can promote the growth of bacteria. If you're using any of these methods and struggling with recurring urinary tract infections, switch to a different birth control method and see if that helps. But talk to your doctor, because depending on your lifestyle and sexual history, you don't want to prevent a UTI only to get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or disease (STD).
7. Load up on cranberries
While there aren't any conclusive scientific results that prove cranberries can help prevent urinary tract infections, they have long been used as a home remedy that many people swear by. Cranberries are rich in vitamin C and other chemical compounds that are believed to have the potential to reduce the growth of harmful bacteria. If you're looking for an extra boost of protection against UTIs, stocking up on cranberry juice is a simple strategy that might help. However, anything labeled a cranberry juice "cocktail" may be over-sugared and worsen your problem.
What to do for a UTI
If you think you might have a urinary tract infection, consult a doctor right away to get it treated with the proper antibiotics. Consulting your doctor is also a good idea if you experience any new symptoms, especially since there are many other causes of bloody urine, including kidney stones and cancer of the urinary system. It's important for your doctor to assess your symptoms with advanced tests and imaging to be sure of the cause of your condition.
There is no surefire way to prevent a UTI altogether. However, being proactive and staying aware of changes to your sexual and urinary health—plus keeping your doctor in the loop—go a long way to greatly reducing your risk of developing a urinary tract infection.