From pelvic pain to frequent urination, urinary tract infection (UTI) symptoms can cause discomfort and inconvenience. These signs depend on which part of the urinary tract is infected, which includes:
- Urethritis (urethra infection)
- Pyelonephritis (kidney infection)
- Cystitis (bladder infection)
While antibiotics can clear up UTIs within a few days, it is important to take simple measures to avoid UTIs altogether or prevent them from recurring. In this article, you’ll learn effective preventative methods for UTIs. It is important to understand UTI symptoms, causes, and risk factors so you can determine which prevention methods may be best for you.
Common causes, risk factors, and symptoms of UTIs
The underlying cause of UTI is the introduction of harmful bacteria into the urinary tract. The bacteria enter through the urethra, which is a tube where urine travels through to exit the body. According to the National Kidney Foundation, Escherichia coli (E. coli) is responsible for 80 to 90 percent of UTIs.
Urinary tract infections can affect men, women, and children, but some people are at higher risk. In fact, various factors may contribute to women being more susceptible to UTIs than men, apart from the length of the urethra. As women age and go through menopause, their estrogen levels decline and their vaginal tissues become thinner, possibly making them more vulnerable to infection. Furthermore, pregnant women can be more prone to UTIs due to changes in the body during pregnancy.
Other factors that can increase the risk of UTIs are:
- Sexual intercourse (especially if more frequent and intense)
- Urinary tract obstructions or blockages (such as kidney stones or enlarged prostate)
- Poor personal hygiene
- Prolonged use of a urinary catheter and administration of a contaminated catheter
- Bowel incontinence (inability to control bowel movements)
- A weakened immune system
- Certain forms of birth control
Some people don’t have symptoms of a UTI but can show at least one of the following:
- An urgent need to urinate
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Abdominal pain
- Cloudy urine and more
5 tips to prevent UTIs
Here are the 5 best tips you can take to lower the chances of contracting a urinary tract infection:
Wipe from front to back
Practicing good hygiene is important, and one of the best ways you can do this is to keep your genital area clean. After using the bathroom, especially after a bowel movement, you should wipe from front to the back. While wiping from the back to the front might feel easier, this habit can increase the risk of bringing E. coli from your anus to your urethra. In addition, never use the same tissue to wipe twice.
Drinking plenty of fluids can make you frequently urinate, which helps you flush harmful bacteria out of your urinary tract. Plain water is best for hydration, so consider aiming for 6 to 8 glasses per day. You may also want to try reducing your intake of alcohol and caffeinated drinks as they can cause further bladder irritation.
Avoid holding your urine
Some people wait for a long period to urinate, whether due to lack of access to a restroom or a busy day at work. Resisting the urge to urinate can encourage bacterial growth, which may lead to UTI. It is best to empty your bladder frequently. This is even more important if you’re sexually active. Urinating and washing up before and after sex can prevent bacteria from setting in and spreading.
Stay away from irritating feminine products
While it’s essential to take good care of your personal hygiene, know that some products can do more harm than good. The vagina naturally contains healthy microbes, which balance the pH level. However, certain fragrances used in some feminine hygiene products can disrupt this balance and possibly lead to the build-up of harmful bacteria. Aside from UTIs, this can result in bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.
Women may want to avoid using products such as:
- Scented tampons or pads
- Deodorant sprays
- Scented powders, bath oils, and soaps
In addition, nylon and other fabrics can trap heat and moisture, promoting the overgrowth of bacteria. Breathable cotton underwear is recommended to keep your genital area dry.
Reconsider your birth control
In some cases, birth control methods can contribute to bacterial growth, causing UTIs. These can include diaphragms, non-lubricated condoms, and spermicides. If you’re using one of these options, you may want to consider switching to another method, such as birth control pills, condoms without spermicide, and intrauterine devices (IUD). You may also talk to your doctor about other birth control options that may be best suited for you.
What about cranberries to prevent UTIs?
Cranberries contain the compound proanthocyanidin, which can stop E. coli from adhering to tissues in the urinary tract. Although drinking cranberries is one of the most well-known natural remedies for urinary tract infections, there is still conflicting information about their efficacy. The American Urological Association, however, states that clinicians can still suggest the use of cranberries. You may also try drinking pure cranberry juice or finding a doctor-approved cranberry supplement.
What are the treatments for UTIs?
Antibiotics are the first-line treatment for UTIs. Depending on which antibiotic your doctor prescribes, you can be on antibiotics for 3 to 7 days. Serious cases, such as pyelonephritis and other infections that can occur during pregnancy, may need more intensive treatment. If you’re pregnant and think you have a UTI, call your obstetrician immediately for early diagnosis and treatment.
Why it’s important to prevent UTI
Most UTIs go away with at-home care. But keep in mind that there are some risks associated if you’re not practicing preventative measures or leaving the infection untreated, which can lead to the following:
- Recurrent urinary tract infections (rUTIs) – Particularly in women experiencing 2 or more UTIs in 6 months.
- Permanent kidney damage – This happens when the infection spreads up to the kidneys and bloodstream, which can be life-threatening.
- Urosepsis – The body’s extreme response to an infection that can lead to multi-organ dysfunction and even death. Sepsis that results from an untreated UTI is generally called urosepsis, which requires immediate medical attention.
When to consult your healthcare provider
If you suspect that you have a UTI, make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor may perform a physical exam and order tests, including:
- A urine analysis
- An ultrasound
- An X-ray or CT scan of the abdomen and pelvic area
For more information about UTIs or trusted product recommendations for your symptoms, you can also visit https://joinbetter.com/ or call 415-475-8444.