What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is when bacteria from outside the body gets into the urinary tract, affecting the kidneys, bladder, or the urethra. Although anyone can get a urinary tract infection, they are most common in women and often cause painful urination and other symptoms, according to Cleveland Clinic. The traditional and least complicated UTI treatment is antibiotics, according to Tami Prince, MD, an OB/GYN and owner of Women’s Health and Wellness Center of Georgia, LLC. There are, however, strategies for protecting against, preventing, and reducing the risk of UTI reoccurrence with the following home remedies for UTIs.
Always use the bathroom post-sex
This is one of the most important home remedies for UTI prevention. After sex, pee immediately to flush any bacteria that might enter the urethra and wipe front to back. Peeing when you feel the need, even if you aren’t having sex, is essential for UTI prevention, too, adds Sherry Ross, MD, an OB/GYN and women’s health expert in Santa Monica, California. “A general rule of thumb is to urinate every two to three hours or when you first feel the urge,” says Dr. Ross, also the author of She-ology. Holding in urine for long periods of time will lead to bacteria buildup—exactly what you want to avoid. Also, always remember to wipe front to back since doing the opposite could transfer bacteria and increase your risk of a UTI, Dr. Ross says. Ironically, having to pee often is one of the 9 symptoms of a urinary tract infection everyone should know.
Don’t take a bath after sex
The chemicals in bath salts and gels can irritate the urethra and make it prone to infections. Also avoid harsh chemicals or perfumes found in feminine sprays; scented toilet paper; and feminine products, douches, and deodorants. These can disrupt the normal pH balance in the vagina and increase your risk for harmful bacteria, according to Dr. Ross. And never take a bath in a hotel tub.
Drinking water can help flush out bacteria, so it’s important to stay hydrated with a UTI, according to Dr. Ross. Hydration also helps flush the kidneys and bladder, too. There are lots of different opinions about how much water people should drink each day. The traditional rule of thumb is to aim for eight glasses of water per day, but you might need more or less. This even helps if you are prone to recurrent UTIs, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. Women who drank an additional 1.5 liters of water a day (about six 8-ounce glasses) experienced 5o percent fewer UTIs than women who did not consume extra water in this yearlong study. It also doesn’t hurt that drinking more water is one of the 48 simple ways you can improve your sex life.
Sip on some cranberry juice
Cranberry juice recipes are one of the most popular home remedies for UTI prevention. Dr. Ross says it can’t hurt to take cranberry tablets or drink cranberry juice to help prevent UTIs, but the research is inconclusive on whether it truly helps. Research in the Journal of Nutrition shows that it can reduce the risk of a UTI by as much as 26 percent. This is likely thanks to the active ingredient in cranberries that can prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder walls, Dr. Prince says. However, there’s usually not enough of this ingredient in cranberry juices or pills to make a significant difference. Dr. Prince notes that a few studies show that these remedies might be most beneficial in women who have recurrent UTIs—not just the occasional infection. Plus, she can personally vouch for their effectiveness. Dr. Prince hasn’t had an infection since her three prior back-to-back infections after using cranberry pills for UTI treatment.
Take extra vitamin C
Drinking a lot of vitamin C or taking vitamin C supplements is another way to prevent bacteria overgrowth since doing so keeps the urine acidic, Dr. Ross says. Still, it’s important not to get too much vitamin C, Dr. Prince warns. The National Institutes of Health recommends women 19 and over get at least 75 mg of vitamin C per day. Talk with your doctor to determine the right amount for you. You can get vitamin C through your diet too.
Practice good sexual hygiene
The cleaner you and your partner are the better. Dr. Ross recommends avoiding excessive saliva, spermicides, and lubricants. Make sure that anything having any contact with the genital area during sex is clean.
Remove wet clothes
A warm, damp environment is a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Always change out of wet swimsuits or sweaty workout clothes as soon as possible. If you have frequent UTIs, stick to loose-fitting, cotton underwear; they’re more breathable than other materials and allow less sweat and bacteria to build up, Dr. Ross says. Removing wet clothes also helps to decrease the risk of vaginitis and yeast and bacterial infections, too, Dr. Prince says.
Avoid invasive products
Women who are prone to UTIs should avoid using a diaphragm, vaginal sponge, diva cup, or sex toys. “These foreign bodies can disrupt the normal pH balance in the vagina and attract unwanted bacteria,” Dr. Ross says. Home remedies can help other health issues, too.
Know when to call your doctor
Sometimes home remedies don’t cut it, adds Stephanie J. Kielb, MD, an associate professor of Urology, Medical Education and Obstetrics and Gynecology (Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery (Urogynecology)) at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “If you get recurrent UTIs, see your doctor to find out what is causing them.” Make sure your urine is cultured and tested to find the exact bacterial culprit. Antibiotics may be necessary, but for women who are postmenopausal, vaginal estrogen can lower risk for recurrent UTIs. “Bacteria changes as estrogen levels go down after menopause, and supplemental vaginal estrogen can help restore this balance and lower risk for UTI.
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