Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common bacterial infection diagnosed in women. In fact, more than 50% of women will experience a UTI in their lifetime. A female’s urethra is shorter in length and positioned closer to the anal region than a man’s, which makes it easier for unhealthy bacteria to enter and travel toward the bladder. This is why UTIs are more common in women.
UTIs can be quite uncomfortable and are the most common cause of gross hematuria, which is where blood is visible in your urine.
Everyone should be familiar with basic UTI prevention, but since women are most at risk, this article will focus on how to prevent them.
1. Drink plenty of fluids
Women who drink less than 1.5 liters of water a day have a 50% increased chance of developing a UTI. By increasing your daily fluid intake, you can decrease your risk of getting a UTI, which also decreases your need for oral antibiotics.
2. Urinate before and after intercourse
UTIs are related to sexual activity because, during intercourse, bacteria from the perineum get pushed up against the urethra (the small tube that leads to the bladder). A good fact about the urinary system is that urinating before and after intercourse flushes the unwanted bacteria away before it has the chance to cause an infection.
3. Take a preventive antibiotic
Women who continue to get UTIs after intercourse despite taking the above precautions may be candidates for antibiotic prophylaxis, where a single dose of an antibiotic is taken after intercourse each time to prevent an infection from developing.
4. Wipe from front to back after using the bathroom
Wiping from back to front can transfer bacteria from the anus and rectum closer to the urethral opening, making a UTI more likely to develop. Wiping from front to back pushes unwanted bacteria away from the urethral opening.
5. Urinate at least every four hours
Women who go more than four hours without urinating have an increased risk of developing a UTI, as voiding infrequently gives bacteria more time to accumulate in the bladder, which can lead to a kidney infection. Urinating at least every four hours ensures that any unwanted bacteria are flushed out of the bladder before it causes an infection.
6. Take a cranberry supplement
A mistake many women make is beginning a cranberry supplement or drinking cranberry juice after they’ve developed symptoms of a UTI. Cranberry products have no confirmed effect on treating UTIs once they develop, but there is some evidence that they can help prevent UTIs if they’re taken on a regular basis because cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (PACs), which prevent bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall.
Note: It’s important to take a cranberry supplement rather than drinking cranberry juice because cranberry juice doesn’t contain a high enough concentration of PACs to be beneficial.
7. Avoid scented products
Feminine hygiene products, such as deodorants, douches and powders, often contain fragrances and other ingredients that can potentially irritate sensitive genital tissues and the urethra.
Other scented products, including bath products, pads and tampons, can also cause irritation. These products can also upset the vaginal microbiome and result in the overgrowth of harmful bacteria that can lead to a UTI.
8. Take probiotics
Probiotics can support a healthy intestinal microbiome, which is linked to immune system function. They can also help support the growth of “good” bacteria in the vagina and urinary tract.
Having the right balance of bacteria in your body’s microbiome can help prevent “bad” bacteria, resulting in fewer UTIs. You can find probiotics in supplements and fermented foods, including kefir, sauerkraut and yogurt.
9. Use the right birth control
Some forms of birth control are more prone to invite unwelcome bacteria into the vagina, where they can travel the urethra and cause urinary tract infections. Diaphragms, spermicide and lubricated condoms are the top offenders and can increase your risk for UTI. Speak with your healthcare provider about other forms of birth control that may work for you.
Factors that increase UTI
How do you know if you’re at risk of getting a UTI? The following risk factors increase the odds of getting one or having recurring infections:
- Catheter placement
- Compromised immune system function
- Enlarged prostate
- Female anatomy
- Kidney stones
- Sexual activity
- Urinary procedures
In addition to the above factors, age-related factors can also play a role and increase the risk of UTIs in older women.
UTIs in older women
UTIs in older women may be associated with the following factors:
- Decreased estrogen levels during menopause
- Forgetfulness, memory loss or other age-related cognitive declines may make it harder to practice good hygiene
- Health procedures or conditions that require a catheter
- Weakened or decreased immune function
If you’re older and experiencing frequent UTIs, see a healthcare professional for help and prevention.
Natural remedies for urinary tract infections
If you notice the telltale signs of a UTI, what can you do for relief? Several of the UTI prevention tips above can also be used as home remedies to manage symptoms of mild UTIs.
To help your body clear a urinary tract infection as quickly as possible, try the following:
- Avoid bladder-irritating foods, which can worsen symptoms and include alcohol, caffeine, citrus fruit, and spicy foods
- Eat more vitamin C foods, such as bell peppers, potatoes and strawberries, or consider a supplement to help your body fight the infection
- Increase water intake and pee as soon as you feel the urge to help flush UTI-causing bacteria from your urinary tract
- Rest as much as possible
- Try a UTI supplement that contains natural ingredients, like cranberry or garlic extracts
You should know these “natural” remedies aren’t a cure-all for all UTIs. Some urinary tract infections are more serious and require medical treatment to prevent complications.
If you’re experiencing any of these UTI symptoms or at-home remedies aren’t providing relief after several days, you should seek medical treatment.
- Bloody urine
- High fever (over 103℉)
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Severe pain in your abdomen, back, or sides
Visit urgent care for an on-site urinalysis test
If you have symptoms of a UTI, our experienced urgent care providers will review your symptoms and check your urine for UTI-causing bacteria.
We offer an on-site urinalysis test, which can give you results in less than five minutes! If your urinalysis confirms a UTI, our providers can prescribe an antibiotic and recommend other remedies to get you back on your feet and feeling better again fast.
If you need help assessing and treating a urinary tract infection, come see the experts at one of our urgent care locations. You can walk in without an appointment or save your spot online. We’ll have you back to feeling better in no time.
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant