How to Avoid a UTI

No one likes having a urinary tract infection, but I can tell you that it is not pleasant. If you are one of those individuals who are constantly worried about getting a UTI, there are many things that you can do to prevent them. The first thing that you need to understand is what causes UTIs in the first place, and there are some key factors that you should know as well.

A urinary tract infection (UTI) happens when an infection develops in your urinary system. It most often affects the lower urinary tract, which includes the bladder and urethra. When treated promptly and properly, lower urinary tract infections rarely lead to complications. But left untreated, a urinary tract infection can have serious consequences.

Complications of a UTI may include:

  • Recurrent infections, especially in women who experience two or more UTIs in a six-month period or four or more within a year.
  • Permanent kidney damage from an acute or chronic kidney infection (pyelonephritis) due to an untreated UTI.
  • Increased risk in pregnant women of delivering low birth weight or premature infants.
  • Urethral narrowing (stricture) in men from recurrent urethritis, previously seen with gonococcal urethritis.
  • Sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection, especially if the infection works its way up your urinary tract to your kidneys.

UTIs are common, but it’s possible to minimize the risk of getting one. In this article, we’ll explain the steps you can take to lower your chance of having a UTI, as well as ways to reduce the risk for people of all ages.

Table of Contents

Causes

Urinary tract infections typically occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and begin to multiply in the bladder. Although the urinary system is designed to keep out such microscopic invaders, these defenses sometimes fail. When that happens, bacteria may take hold and grow into a full-blown infection in the urinary tract.

The most common UTIs occur mainly in women and affect the bladder and urethra.

  • Infection of the bladder (cystitis): This type of UTI is usually caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli), a type of bacteria commonly found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. However, sometimes other bacteria are responsible. Sexual intercourse may lead to cystitis, but you don’t have to be sexually active to develop it. All women are at risk of cystitis because of their anatomy — specifically, the short distance from the urethra to the anus and the urethral opening to the bladder.
  • Infection of the urethra (urethritis): This type of UTI can occur when GI bacteria spread from the anus to the urethra. Also, because the female urethra is close to the vagina, sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia and mycoplasma, can cause urethritis.

Symptoms

Urinary tract infections don’t always cause signs and symptoms, but when they do they may include:

  • A strong, persistent urge to urinate
  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Passing frequent, small amounts of urine
  • Urine that appears cloudy
  • Urine that appears red, bright pink or cola-colored — a sign of blood in the urine
  • Strong-smelling urine
  • Pelvic pain, in women — especially in the center of the pelvis and around the area of the pubic bone

UTIs may be overlooked or mistaken for other conditions in older adults.

Risk factors

Urinary tract infections are common in women, and many women experience more than one infection during their lifetimes. Risk factors specific to women for UTIs include:

  • Female anatomy. A woman has a shorter urethra than a man does, which shortens the distance that bacteria must travel to reach the bladder.
  • Sexual activity. Sexually active women tend to have more UTIs than do women who aren’t sexually active. Having a new sexual partner also increases your risk.
  • Certain types of birth control. Women who use diaphragms for birth control may be at higher risk, as well as women who use spermicidal agents.
  • Menopause. After menopause, a decline in circulating estrogen causes changes in the urinary tract that make you more vulnerable to infection.

In both men and women, other risk factors for UTIs include:

  • Urinary tract abnormalities. Babies born with urinary tract abnormalities that don’t allow urine to leave the body normally or cause urine to back up in the urethra have an increased risk of UTIs.
  • Blockages in the urinary tract. Kidney stones or an enlarged prostate can trap urine in the bladder and increase the risk of UTIs.
  • A suppressed immune system. Diabetes and other diseases that impair the immune system — the body’s defense against germs — can increase the risk of UTIs.
  • Catheter use. People who can’t urinate on their own and use a tube (catheter) to urinate have an increased risk of UTIs. This may include people who are hospitalized, people with neurological problems that make it difficult to control their ability to urinate and people who are paralyzed.
  • A recent urinary procedure. Urinary surgery or an exam of your urinary tract that involves medical instruments can both increase your risk of developing a urinary tract infection.

Ways to prevent a UTI

UTIs can’t always be avoided, but it’s possible to reduce your risk of getting one. Here are prevention methods that may help you sidestep a UTI.

Wipe front to back

Since the rectum is a main source of E.coli, it’s best to wipe your genitals from front to back after using the bathroom. This habit decreases the risk of bringing E.coli from the anus to the urethra.

It’s even more important to do this if you have diarrhea. Having diarrhea can make it hard to control bowel movements, which may increase the chance of E.coli spreading to the urethra.

Drink plenty of fluids

Stay hydrated throughout the day. This will make you pee more frequently, which flushes bacteria out of your urinary tract.

Water is the best choice. Aim for 6 to 8 glasses per day. If it’s hard for you to drink that much water, you can also increase your fluid intake by drinking sparkling water, decaffeinated herbal tea, milk, or smoothies made with fruits and vegetables.

Try to limit or avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks, which may irritate the bladder.

Avoid holding your pee

Avoid holding in your urine, as this can encourage bacterial growth. Try not to wait more than 3 to 4 hours to pee, and completely empty your bladder each time.

This is even more important if you’re pregnant as pregnancy puts you at an increased risk for a UTI. Holding your pee can further increase the risk.

Urinate before and after sex

Sexual activity increases the chances of getting a UTI, especially if you’re a woman. That’s because bacteria can easily get into the urethra during sex.

To reduce your risk, pee immediately before and after sex. The idea is to flush out bacteria that may cause UTIs.

It’s also a good idea to gently wash your genital area before sex. This can help keep the area clean and reduce the chance of bacteria spreading to your urethra.

Avoid scented products

The vagina naturally contains more than 50 different microbes, many of which are a type of bacteria called Lactobacilli. These bacteria help keep the vagina healthy and the pH level balanced.

Scented feminine products can disrupt this balance, allowing harmful bacteria to overgrow. This can result in UTIs, bacterial vaginosis, and yeast infections.

Avoid using products such as:

  • douches
  • scented pads or tampons
  • scented powders
  • deodorant sprays

Scented bath oils, soaps, and bubble baths can also irritate the genital area and cause an imbalance in vaginal bacteria.

Explore birth control options

Some types of birth control might promote an overgrowth of harmful bacteria. This includes:

If you think your birth control is causing UTIs, talk with your doctor. They can walk you through the different options and help you find an alternative method that’s right for you.

Take probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms that can increase good gut bacteria. They may also help promote the growth of good bacteria in the urinary tract. This could help protect you from getting a UTI.

Generally, Lactobacillistrains have been associated with less frequent UTIs. There are several ways you can take probiotics to boost the health of your urinary tract, including:

Get antibiotics

If you get UTIs that don’t respond well to treatment or keep coming back, your doctor might recommend a small daily dose of oral antibiotics. This can help prevent a UTI by controlling harmful bacteria.

You’ll likely have to take the antibiotics after sex or when you first notice UTI symptoms. The drawback, however, is that prolonged antibiotic use can lead to antibiotic resistance. Your doctor can determine if this is the right prevention method for you.

Consume cranberries

Cranberries are a traditional home remedy for preventing UTIs. The berry has compounds called proanthocyanidins that may prevent E.coli from adhering to tissues in the urinary tract.

It’s also thought that vitamin C in cranberries may increase the acidity of urine, which might reduce overgrowth of bad bacteria.

Scientific research shows conflicting results. Some studies have found that cranberry extract reduces the frequency of UTIs, while others haven’t found the same effect.

Though it’s not clear if cranberries can prevent UTIs, it’s a low-risk remedy. If you’d like to consume cranberries, opt for unsweetened, pure cranberry juice instead of sugary cranberry cocktails. You can also eat fresh or frozen cranberries.

UTI prevention and older adults

Older adults are also at a higher risk of getting a UTI. This is often due to:

  • age-related changes in immune function
  • bladder or bowel incontinence
  • catheter use
  • cognitive impairment
  • menopause

In addition to the prevention methods outlined above, estrogen replacement therapy can help prevent UTIs in older women.

Menopause decreases estrogen levels, which may disrupt the bacterial balance of the vagina. Estrogen treatment, like a low-dose vaginal cream, can help restore this balance.

UTI prevention in babies and children

It’s not only adults who get UTIs. Babies and children can get them, too. Bladder and kidney infections are the most common types of UTIs among children, especially girls.

Teaching the following habits may help prevent UTIs in children:

  • taking bathroom breaks every 2 to 3 hours
  • completely emptying the bladder
  • taking time while peeing
  • teaching girls to wipe from front to back after urinating
  • avoiding tight underwear or clothes
  • avoiding bubble baths
  • staying hydrated

Conclusion

Anyone who has ever had a urinary tract infection or UTI knows that these are some of the worst infections that plagues mostly women but also men as well. Not only are some pretty painful, but they are also causing you to have to take prescription meds for them. So why not prevent it than deal with it?

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