If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection, just hearing those three little letters—UTI—probably makes you cringe. UTIs are painful, disruptive and are often repeat offenders: Up to 30% of women who have a UTI will get another within 6 months, notes Harvard. So if you’ve got a UTI, are you doomed to a lifetime of them? Not necessarily. Here’s how to get relief and prevent them from coming back.
What is a UTI?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in the organs that make up your urinary system, including your urethra, kidneys, or bladder. The CDC notes that these organs work together to filter and remove our body’s waste. If bacteria from outside of the body finds its way into that system, an infection can occur. Women are at a greater risk for UTIs than their male counterparts, since their urethras are shorter and closer to the rectum, meaning bacteria has a shorter distance to travel. UTIs can typically be cleared up with antibiotics, but left untreated, they could spread to the kidneys and create a more serious problem.
What are the symptoms of a UTI?
Sometimes, UTIs don’t present any symptoms, or only very mild ones. But it’s common to see any of the following:
- An urgent, persistent need to urinate
- Passing a small amount of urine despite strong sensation to urinate
- Pain or burning when urinating
- Bloody or cloudy urine
- Lower back or pelvic pain
- Strong-smelling urine
- Pain during sex
- Confusion (in older adults)
What do I do if I think I have a UTI?
If you are presenting any of the symptoms of a UTI, get in touch with your clinician. They’ll listen to your symptoms, determine if you have a UTI (possibly through a urine sample), and likely prescribe an antibiotic. If you have painful symptoms, there are a few steps you can take to relieve symptoms until the meds kick in, according to Mayo Clinic:
- Drink plenty of water. It might feel counterintuitive or even uncomfortable to pump your body with liquids if it’s painful to pee. But the more you drink, the more your body will be forced to flush out the bacteria that’s infecting you. Stay away from sugary, alcoholic, or caffeinated drinks, though, since the ingredients in those can cause your infection to flare up.
- Soothe with heat. A heating pad is a safe and effective way to treat pain from the infection. But avoid sitting in a warm bath or hot tub, as this might invite more bacteria into your urethra.
- Urinate frequently. You might find yourself running to the bathroom constantly, but only passing a trickle of liquid. It seems repetitive, but continue to urinate every time you have the urge—keeping your bladder empty is key for preventing more bacteria growth.
- Try cranberry juice, with caution. You may have heard that cranberry juice is a cure for UTIs. This needs to be studied more to be conclusive. But if you enjoy a glass of pure cranberry juice without added sugars, it can be worth a try to see if it relieves your symptoms.
How can I prevent a UTI?
Some women are more prone to recurrent UTIs. If that’s you, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk. Here’s what the CDC recommends:
- Practice smart hygiene. Bacteria thrives in warm, moist environments, so avoid creating one. Change underwear, pads, and tampons frequently; dry completely after a shower; avoid tight-fitting clothing that traps wetness; and pee after sex to flush out any bacteria.
- Wipe from front to back. The other way around makes it easier for bacteria from the rectum to enter your urethra.
- Hydrate and urinate. Even when you don’t have an infection, try to stay hydrated and empty your bladder frequently, so that you’re constantly flushing out bacteria and not giving it time to grow.
- Ask your clinician about other conditions. Occasionally, frequent UTIs can be an indication that your body is dealing with a different underlying health issue, including diabetes. Be sure to mention other symptoms to your clinician and ask them to run some blood work to identify if there’s another culprit behind the infections.
- Avoid flare-up foods. If you have frequent UTIs, you might find that eliminating certain foods from your diet can help prevent future infections. Bacteria loves sugar, so consider ignoring your sweet tooth. Additionally, coffee, alcohol, sugary drinks, and the acid from spicy foods or citrus fruits can all irritate your bladder.
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