A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in at least one part of the urinary system, which includes your bladder, urethra, or kidneys. About 50% to 60% of women will experience a UTI in their life, though anyone can get one.
Symptoms of a UTI include pain while urinating, frequent urination, blood in urine, and cramping. While UTIs are quite common, there are steps you can take to prevent them.
Here are six tips to prevent UTIs.
"Increased water intake has many benefits to the body — among them is the reduction of UTI[s]. It dilutes the urine and causes increased urination, flushing the urinary tract system [of] pathogens that may have collected there," says Kecia Gaither, MD, an OB/GYN and director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln.
A 2018 study followed women who had recurrent — defined as three or more a year — UTIs and drank one and a half liters of water or less a day. The study divided participants into two groups: one drank another one and a half liters of water a day while the other continued as usual. After 12 months, only 7% of the water group had experienced three or more UTIs, while the same was true for 88% of the control group.
"[Water] is the first line of defense against urinary tract infections. Typically we recommend 8 to 10 glasses per day," says Michael Ingber, MD, a urogynecologist at The Center for Specialized Women's Health in northern New Jersey.
If you regularly struggle to drink enough water, try buying a bottle with marked measurements on it to keep track of how much you have left to drink for the day.
Maintaining a careful wiping technique after using the bathroom can go a long way towards preventing UTIs.
"Given the close location of the anus to the urethra in women, it is important that women always wipe from front to back. Wiping from back to front can result in dragging the bacteria from the anus into the bladder and vagina," says Scott G. Chudnoff, MD, an OB/GYN and chair of the department of OB/GYN at Stamford Hospital.
While you don't have to use the bathroom immediately after sex, using it soon after can help prevent UTIs from developing — especially for anyone with a vagina. Thanks to the urethra's proximity to the vagina, it's easy for bacteria from sex to build up and cause an infection.
If you can't urinate post-sex, reach for a big glass of water to get fluids moving.
Though many products claim to remove bacteria from the vagina, they are unnecessary and can cause harm.
"The vagina has its own self-cleaning mechanism, and therefore we typically do not recommend using anything like cleaning products," says Ingber, suggesting you use natural soaps down there instead. Habits such as douching can also do more harm than good as it removes good bacteria your vagina needs.
Certain types of lubricants also increase your chances of UTIs, says Ingber. Avoid spermicides and scented lubricants as they can introduce UTI-causing bacteria. If you do use them, peeing and even showering after sex can help remove them before infection occurs.
If you're looking to avoid UTIs, break out the cranberry juice. A 2006 review concluded cranberries can treat UTIs as they inhibit bacteria from adhering to the urethra. However, it's important to note that only pure cranberry juice will have an effect on UTIs. Most store-bought drinks contain just one percent cranberry juice.
"Beverages or products that increase the acidity of the urine can help in combating UTIs. Therefore, I will frequently recommend that patients take cranberry juice in addition to adequate water," says Chudnoff.
Holding your pee can also make you a more likely candidate for UTIs.
"Prolonged and repetitive holding of urine may not only increase the risk of UTIs but also increase the chances of developing urinary incontinence," says Chudnoff.
Urinary incontinence is a condition in which people are unable to control their bladder and urinate involuntarily. He and Ingber both reported this being a common issue in people whose professions prevent them from using the bathroom regularly, such as teachers or nurses.
"By having bacteria sitting in the urine for extended periods of time, it grows and ascends the urinary tract system into the kidneys," says Gaither.