Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the most common known bacterial infections. Roughly 150 million people worldwide get a UTI each year, and the condition accounts for approximately 10 million doctor visits per year in the United States alone. Anyone who has ever had a UTI knows just how painful and uncomfortable they are. Burning urination, constant urges, and pelvic pain are just a few of the symptoms that accompany the condition. Thankfully, UTIs are easily treatable, but prevention is always the better option.
Here are some of the risk factors, treatments, and prevention methods that medical research has found to be effective for UTIs.
Who Is at Risk of a UTI?
Because women have a shorter urethra than men, bacteria don’t have to travel as far to reach the bladder, which is why UTIs are much more common in females than males. Sexual activity, birth control, multiple childbirths, and menopause further raise a woman’s risk of infection. It’s estimated that about one in two women will experience a UTI at least once in her lifetime (and of that group, one in five will have more than one infection over the course of her life).
But women aren’t the only ones who can get UTIs. People with diabetes, kidney stones, or men with an enlarged prostate also have a higher risk of infection than others.
How Can UTIs Be Prevented?
Once you’ve experienced the pain and discomfort of a UTI, you would probably do anything to avoid having another one — and if you’ve never had one, you might be wondering what you can do to keep it that way. Although it might be impossible to reduce your risk to zero, there are some simple preventative measures you can take to help lower the chances of getting a UTI:
- Stay hydrated. By drinking plenty of water, you will urinate more frequently, which flushes bacteria out of your urinary tract. (Don’t substitute water with beverages like alcohol, citrus juices, or caffeinated sodas, as these can irritate the bladder.) You’ll know you are drinking enough if you pee every two to three hours during the day.
- Don’t hold it in. If you need to go to the bathroom, do it as soon as possible. The longer you wait in-between bathroom trips, the more time bacteria has to sit around in your bladder and urinary tract and turn into an infection. Peeing is an especially good idea after having sex; bacteria can enter the urethra during intercourse, and urination pushes the bacteria back out.
- Wipe front to back. Wiping the wrong direction could bring bacteria from the anal region into the urinary tract — a recipe for a UTI. While this is a good habit to get into every time you go to the bathroom, it’s especially important to do it after a bowel movement.
- Avoid using certain feminine products. Douches, deodorant sprays, wipes, shaving gels, and powders used in the genital area can be irritating and potentially lead to a UTI. In fact, they increase a woman’s risk of bacterial infection by 20 times.
- Consider switching birth control. Certain methods of birth control, such as items with spermicides and diaphragms, can encourage bacterial growth. If you get recurring UTIs and use one of those birth control methods, talk to your doctor about alternatives.
- Change immediately out of damp clothing. After you work out or swim, avoid lounging around in wet clothing. Moist yoga pants and swimsuits are breeding grounds for UTI-causing bacteria and can also lead to yeast infections.
- Use probiotics. Probiotics, or helpful microorganisms found in fermented foods, have shown to decrease the risk of UTIs in adult women — particularly Lactobacillus. Probiotics can be consumed in foods like yogurt and kimchi or as a supplement. They’re also good to take in conjunction with antibiotics used to treat UTIs to replenish the good bacteria that naturally occurs in the gut.
Natural Treatment for UTIs
A UTI is not considered a serious condition, but it can become serious if left untreated, in which case the infection could spread to the kidneys and the blood. If a UTI is caught early enough, antibiotics tend to treat the infection quickly and effectively. However, there is a small percentage of women who have recurring UTIs (generally defined as three or more a year). If you experience repeated UTIs, talk to your doctor about getting tested for other health issues, like bladder dysfunction.
It can be a little harder to treat if the infection sticks around longer and spreads to other areas, but antibiotics still tend to do the job — except in the case of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If you’re after holistic treatment after an antibiotic fails to treat the condition, there are several ways you can alleviate the symptoms of a UTI at home.
- Harness the power of cranberries. Cranberries contain a substance that is said to help prevent the urinary tract from absorbing bacteria. While further research is needed for confirmation, it’s worthwhile to try unsweetened cranberry juice or cranberry supplements to get rid of a UTI.
- Increase your vitamin C intake. Studies show that vitamin C acidifies the urine and prevents bacterial infections while strengthening the immune system. Vitamin C can be taken as a capsule or a liquid supplement.
UTIs are hard to live with, but they’re easy to prevent and relatively simple to treat if you follow the above tips.