How to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections
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Roughly 50 to 60 percent of women experience the phantom need to pee, the burning sensation once they’re actually able to, and all the aches and pains that come with a urinary tract infection, at least once in their life. But an even more unlucky lot are doomed to suffer UTIs on the reg—a few times a year.
Some women get UTIs more frequently than others simply because their immune system is more compromised, which makes them more susceptible to infection, says Alyse Kelly-Jones, M.D., ob-gyn in Charlotte, NC.
It is super important to get out in front of UTIs: It’s not just that they make you feel like a stream of fire is coming out of you. If left alone, the infection can ascend into the kidneys and cause a more severe infection called pyelonephritis. says Dr. Kelly-Jones.
The infection is easily treated with antibiotics. But for frequent sufferers, “it’s best to take measures to try to prevent UTIs from occurring so you do not need to use antibiotics as much to treat them,” says Christine Greves, M.D., an ob-gyn at Orlando Health in Florida.
Science says having lots of sex is the biggest culprit for the burdensome bacteria getting into your urinary tract—bummer, considering we’re not about to suggest you cut back on that. Both docs agree there’s not a lot of evidence that natural remedies or lifestyle habits can help prevent UTIs, but there are a few things that can decrease your chances of getting a urinary tract infection.
Stay Hydrated AF
A new study in JAMA found women who get recurrent UTIs cut their annual infections in half just by drinking more water. The research just shows correlation, not causation, but all the docs agree hydration does nothing but help. “Dilution is the solution to pollution. If you dilute the bacteria numbers, you make infection less likely,” says Dr. Kelly-Jones. Plus, hydration will likely help your immune system function better, she adds. Aim for at least 1.5 liters a day (that’s roughly 6 cups). (And heads up, dehydration can also make your PMS worse.)
Get to the Gym
People who exercise regularly are less likely to need antibiotics for bacterial infections, especially the kind used to treat UTIs, compared to those who stay on the couch, according to a large 2016 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. That’s probably because regular exercise helps your immune system function better, says Dr. Kelly-Jones. Even better news: It took just four hours of low-intensity work a week to see these benefits in the study. (Related: 5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System Without Medicine)
Take a Probiotic
“One of the features of urinary tract infections is the presence of bacteria in the bladder, and E. coli, a common intestinal bacteria, is often the culprit,” explains Eden Fromberg, D.O., director of Holistic Gynecology New York in Manhattan. Probiotics can help increase the lactobacilli that replenish beneficial flora and help inhibit E. coli activity. (Related: How to Find the Best Probiotic for You)
Eat More Fermented Foods
Mother Nature’s probiotics come in the form of fermented foods. Snacks like live culture yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi all help contribute to increasing the good gut bacteria and keeping the UTI-causing bad bacteria away, Dr. Fromberg says.
Pee After Sex
You’ve probably heard this one before, but it’s so important it’s worth a reminder. “Urinating or showering after sex can help flush out any bacteria that may have entered into the urethra (and therefore, the urinary tract) before it enters the kidneys or before it decides to hang out in the urinary tract and wreak havoc,” says Dr. Greves.
Wipe Front to Back
Getting a clean wipe seems rudimentary, but if you’re suffering from frequent UTIs, you may need to switch up your approach. “The bacteria that generally cause a UTI, E. coli, comes from the perirectal area and it ascends into the bladder,” says Dr. Kelly-Jones. “Making sure you wipe from front to back can prevent colonization with the bacteria from the rectal area.”
Check Your Condoms
Some studies have shown that spermicide can make a woman more at risk for UTIs, Dr. Kelly-Jones points out. You probably aren’t using this as your primary form of birth control, but some condoms are coated with the stuff. Double-check the package to be sure you’re using spermicide-free protection. (Related: How to Be As Happy As You Look On Instagram)
We don’t know for sure whether cranberry juice or extracts actually help prevent UTIs, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for some people, Dr. Greves says. The thinking is the fruit’s molecules can help prevent the bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract wall. Dr. Fromberg advises taking 150mg of a high-concentration extract (25:1) once or twice a week for UTI prevention (every two hours if you’re symptomatic). Another great option: oil of oregano, which contains the antibacterial carvacrol. Dr. Fromberg recommends a 300 mg capsule, four times a day when you have sex or if you feel a UTI coming on.
Pop an Antibiotic
Okay, we know this might seem counterintuitive, but if all of the above doesn’t work for you, antibiotics might be your best prevention option. “One of the most effective methods to prevent recurrent UTIs is to take an antibiotic immediately after sex,” says Dr. Kelly-Jones. Yes, in general you want to minimize your antibiotic intake to prevent resistance build-up and potential side effects like yeast infections and ineffective birth control pills. But most docs will prescribe Macrobid, which Dr. Kelly-Jones says is safe long-term and is only one pill, one time, so your risk of building up resistance is lower. That being said, if you’re getting down frequently, incorporate the other, all-natural preventative measures on this list so you’re not popping an antibiotic multiple times a week.