UTI prevention: tips to prevent a urinary tract infection
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can be prevented by practicing good hygiene when using the bathroom, peeing after sex, staying hydrated and avoiding products that can irritate the urinary system.
- There are also medications and supplements that may help prevent infections in people who experience frequent UTIs.
- UTIs are very common. Up to 60% of people with female anatomy will develop a UTI in their lifetime.
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is caused when bacteria enter and grow in the urinary system, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Bacteria from the vagina and anus can be introduced to the urinary system from sex or after having a bowel movement. Other conditions, like pregnancy, diabetes or catheter use, can also make UTIs more likely to occur.
There are some simple steps you can take to prevent UTIs. Staying hydrated, practicing good hygiene when using the bathroom, peeing after sex and avoiding products that irritate the urinary system are all good ways to lower the risk of getting a UTI.
When a UTI keeps coming back
The urinary system naturally flushes out bacteria through urination (peeing). However, sometimes this process isn’t enough to get rid of bacteria that can cause infection.
While antibiotics can clear up most simple UTIs quickly, some people suffer from repeat UTIs. In fact, 27% of people who develop a UTI will have another infection in the next 6 months and 2.7% will experience three or more UTIs in a single year.
When UTIs keep coming back, it’s important to see a healthcare provider. There may be an underlying condition that contributes to your UTIs, like diabetes, structural changes to the urinary anatomy or a problem with your immune system. It may also be possible to take certain medications to make UTIs less likely.
How to prevent a UTI
UTIs are responsible for approximately 7 million doctor visits each year. Even though they’re very common, UTIs can still cause a lot of problems. Symptoms usually begin quickly, leading to intense discomfort, pain or burning with urination and an urge to pee that doesn’t go away even after using the bathroom.
Without treatment, UTIs can turn into a more serious problem. Severe abdominal or back pain, blood in the urine, fever or chills can all indicate that a UTI has moved to the kidneys. This can be dangerous and can potentially cause permanent damage if not treated quickly.
Thankfully, there are several steps you can take to minimize the risk of developing a UTI. Following these practices can help flush bacteria out of the urinary system and prevent an infection from taking hold.
- Drink plenty of fluids, particularly water, to encourage your body to urinate frequently
- Always wipe from front to back after using the bathroom to keep bacteria from the anus and vagina away from the urethra
- Urinate immediately after sex
- Avoid products that can irritate the urinary system. This includes douches and deodorant sprays that can irritate the delicate lining of the vagina and urethra. Also avoid tight-fitting underwear or wet swimsuits. While these won’t cause a UTI by themselves, a warm, moist environment can encourage bacteria to grow and create an environment where there is more bacteria available around the urethra.
- Choose a birth control method that won’t irritate urinary or vaginal tissue. Spermicides and diaphragms are both linked to an increased risk of UTIs.
There is emerging evidence that other treatments can help prevent UTIs, particularly in people who experience frequent UTIs. This includes taking a low-dose antibiotic after sex or even every day to help prevent UTIs.
Estrogen creams or suppositories can help treat UTIs in people who have gone through menopause.
Does cranberry juice prevent UTIs?
Cranberry juice or cranberry tablets may help reduce the risk of developing a UTI. Some research indicates that cranberry makes it harder for E. coli, the most common cause of UTIs, to stick to the walls of the urinary system.
It’s important to know that the evidence on cranberry juice is mixed, and because of the risk of side effects, sticking to water may be a better option for people looking to reduce their risk of UTIs.
If you decide to use cranberry juice, the most common uses include drinking 240 - 300 mL (8-10 oz) of juice cocktail containing 25% cranberry juice every day.
If you don’t like the flavor of cranberry juice, you can try cranberry pills or tablets containing 600 to >1,200 mg/day per day (divided into 2 or 3 doses daily). Look for tablets that also contain Vitamin C or E to prevent the compounds in cranberries from breaking down when exposed to air or light.
There are some potential downsides to taking cranberry juice every day. Cranberry juice has a very acidic taste. Juice cocktail is also high in sugar, which isn’t appropriate for everyone. It can also be expensive, especially if you wouldn’t otherwise choose to drink cranberry juice as part of your daily diet.
Cranberry juice can also cause some mild gastrointestinal issues like nausea and diarrhea. There is also some evidence that it can interact with medications that affect blood clotting (Warfarin in particular). Before taking cranberry juice or cranberry supplements, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider to make sure it’s a safe option for you.
Trusted treatment options for UTIs
Urinary tract infections can be very disruptive. Symptoms often start suddenly and get worse quickly, leading to pain, anxiety and an inability to enjoy daily activities because of frequent trips to the bathroom.
It can be especially difficult to find UTI care outside of typical office hours. Dr. B offers a convenient virtual medical consultation for UTIs, including antibiotic prescriptions when appropriate.
Bergamin, P. A., & Kiosoglous, A. J. (2017). Non-surgical management of recurrent urinary tract infections in women. Translational andrology and urology, 6(Suppl 2), S142–S152. https://doi.org/10.21037/tau.2017.06.09
Cranberry. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved January 3, 2023.
Hisano, M., Bruschini, H., Nicodemo, A. C., & Srougi, M. (2012). Cranberries and lower urinary tract infection prevention. Clinics (Sao Paulo, Brazil), 67(6), 661–668. https://doi.org/10.6061/clinics/2012(06)18
Imam, T. H. (2022). Bladder infection. In Merck Manual Commercial Version. Merck & Co., Inc. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
Imam, T. H. (2022). Kidney infection. In Merck Manual Commercial Version. Merck & Co., Inc. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
Imam, T. H. (2022). Overview of urinary tract infections. In Merck Manual Commercial Version. Merck & Co., Inc. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
Imam, T. H. (2022). Urethritis. In Merck Manual Commercial Version. Merck & Co., Inc. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
Medina, M., & Castillo-Pino, E. (2019). An introduction to the epidemiology and burden of urinary tract infections. Therapeutic advances in urology, 11, 1756287219832172. https://doi.org/10.1177/1756287219832172
McCollum, B. J., Garigan, T., & Earwood, J. (2020). PURL: Can drinking more water prevent urinary tract infections?. The Journal of family practice, 69(3), E19–E20.
Plüddemann, A. (2019). Can drinking more water prevent urinary tract infections? The evidence says yes. BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine 24, 191-192.
Take Steps to Avoid a UTI this Summer. (13 Jul 2016) Urology Care Foundation. Retrieved January 3, 2023.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Retrieved December 27, 2022.