According to the Urology Care Foundation, approximately 60% of women and 12% of men will have at least one urinary tract infection, or UTI, during their lifetime. Not only that, the UCF says that UTIs cause more than 8.1 million visits to healthcare providers each year. That’s an enormous number.
At Westchester Health, we see a lot of UTIs, mainly in women but also in some men. And what we hear quite frequently from our patients are questions concerning what steps they can take to avoid future infections. Based on our years of experience with this particular urological condition, we’ve compiled the following guidelines specifically for women to reduce their risk of developing a UTI or additional ones.
First, how do you get a UTI?
Do you experience burning pain when you go to the bathroom? Do you feel like you need to pee all the time? Are you experiencing pain in your lower back, nausea, vomiting or dizziness? You might have a UTI.
A UTI develops in one of two ways: when outside bacteria enters the urethra, or when bacteria already in the bladder multiply to unhealthy levels. Most UTIs are caused by bacteria that is already in the bladder, so flushing this out is the most effective way to stop infection that might develop.
11 steps you can take to avoid getting UTIs
Although some women are more prone to UTIs (especially those who have diabetes or are post-menopausal), most can avoid them by following these simple do-it-yourself guidelines from the Urology Care Foundation:
Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, all the time
You’ll probably have to go to the bathroom more often but consistently drinking fluids flushes out your bladder as well as any bacteria that might be growing there. Also, frequent drinking dilutes your urine so that bacteria can’t grow in your bladder as easily. At Westchester Health, we recommend 6-8 cups of water, or a typical 16 oz. bottle, every day.
Empty your bladder after sex
Sexual intercourse can transport bacteria from the vagina into the urethra. Urinating after sex flushes out any bacteria that could have migrated to the bladder during intercourse. If you can, we recommend urinating both before and after sex.
Don’t hold in urine
When urine stays in your bladder, it becomes stagnate fluid, an ideal environment for an infection to develop. To prevent this, we recommend going to the bathroom at least every 3-4 hours, and more often (every 2 hours) if you’re prone to UTIs.
Wipe from front to back
Bacteria that gets into your urethra comes from two places: your vagina or your rectum. Wiping back to front, especially after a bowel movement, is the primary reason rectal bacteria get introduced into the vagina and urethra and sets up a urinary infection.
Do not douche
Douching sends a stream of water, or water mixed with antiseptics like vinegar, into your vagina to wash out “bad” vaginal bacteria, which disrupts the natural balance in your vagina and actually allows more bad bacteria to grow. The lactobacillius (“good” bacteria) in the vagina kill off bacteria that can cause UTIs, and since the vagina and the urethra sit next to each other, the good bacteria in that area controls the growth of bad.
Take cranberry supplements
Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins, which many experts believe prevents bacteria from adhering to the bladder. However, since cranberry products are unregulated, they don’t all contain the same amount of proanthocyanidins. Make sure not to take more than the daily recommendation, since some studies have suggested a link between overuse of cranberry supplements and kidney stones.
Examine your contraceptives
If you’re prone to UTIs, you maybe should avoid spermicides and diaphragms. Spermicides not only possibly introduce bacteria into your vagina but they also alter your vaginal pH, which can cause bacterial overgrowth. Diaphragms are less of an issue but can cause problems if they keep your bladder from emptying completely.
Replace baths with showers if you are prone to getting UTIs. Although many women experience no problems with baths, others find that they cause UTIs because they make it easier for bacteria in the water to enter your vagina.
Wear breathable cotton underwear
Tight, synthetic underwear fabric can create a moist environment that breeds bacteria. If you often get UTIs and think your underwear may be the cause, change to 100% cotton and see if that makes a difference.
Some studies have shown that taking probiotic supplements or eating probiotic foods can help produce good vaginal bacteria.
Change out of sweaty workout clothes and wet swimsuits immediately
You should always take off wet or sweaty bathing suits, underwear or workout clothing as soon as possible and change into dry cotton underwear (preferably after showering). This will eliminate the risk of bacteria multiplying and migrating into your urethra.
Typical symptoms of a UTI
When you have a UTI, the Urology Care Foundation explains, the lining of your bladder and urethra become red and irritated (like the lining of your throat when you have a cold). This can cause pain in your lower abdomen, pelvic area and even lower back. You might also experience these symptoms:
- burning or pain when urinating
- you feel like you have to urinate all the time
- strong urge to urinate but only a few drops appear (because the bladder is irritated, you feel like you have to urinate, even when there’s not much urine in your bladder)
- leaking urine
- urine smells bad and is cloudy
To know more, read our blogs on the subject
We’ve written a number of highly informative blogs focusing on urologic conditions, which you can read here.
Helpful websites we recommend
Want to know more about what you can do to avoid UTIs? Please come see us.
If you think you have a UTI, or if you are getting UTIs frequently, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health urologists. We’ll examine you, evaluate your symptoms, maybe perform some tests, and together with you, decide on the best treatment going forward, given your individual health needs. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.
By Jerry Weinberg, MD, a urologist with Westchester Health, member of Westchester Health Physician Partners