A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when there is an infection in your urinary system. This usually affects the lower urinary tract, which includes the urethra and bladder.
When you have a UTI, you’ll most probably feel a persistent need to pee. Other usual symptoms include a burning sensation when you urinate and cloudy urine.
UTIs are very common. While you should always see a doctor to get a professional diagnosis, there are many things you can do to lower your risk of having urinary tract issues and its associated health problems.
What Is a UTI?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common bacterial infection of the urinary system. A UTI can occur in numerous locations, including your urethra, kidneys, bladder, or elsewhere in the urinary tract. This part of the body fulfils a number of important functions, including the storage and removal of urine.
The urinary tract can be divided into the upper urinary and lower urinary tract, with the upper tract consisting of the kidneys and ureters, and the lower tract consisting of the bladder and urethra.
Urinary tract infections are incredibly commonplace. Diagnosis is fairly simple and effective treatment is based on a combination of medications and lifestyle changes. While UTIs can cause serious problems, and may be related to other conditions, the majority of cases are fairly easy to diagnose and treat.
The following statistics highlight some interesting facts about UTIs:
- There are around 150 million UTI cases around the world each year.
- UTIs account for around 1 million visits to a doctor every year.
- Women have a lifetime risk of 50-60% of developing a UTI.
What Are the Most Common UTI Symptoms?
The symptoms of a UTI vary widely based on the nature of the condition, the location of the infection, and the age and gender of the person involved. One of the most common symptoms of a UTI is a strong and frequent urge to urinate. The nature of urine may change due to the infection, with cloudy, strong-smelling, or even bloody urine possible. Along with UTIs, blood in the urine can be a sign of something more serious, so it's important to see a health professional if this occurs.
People with a UTI may also experience a burning sensation or even pain when urinating, along with associated nausea and vomiting, and muscle aches and pains. The presence of a catheter can change the way symptoms present, with some people in this situation only likely to experience fever as a symptom. If your urine has changed appearance or you experience discomfort when passing urine, it's important to see a doctor.
Most UTIs are caused by the bacterium E. coli, which is usually found in the digestive system. Other bacteria can also cause UTIs in some situations, including chlamydia and mycoplasma. UTIs have different names depending on where they occur in the body. For example, a urethra infection is called urethritis, a bladder infection is called cystitis, and a kidney infection is called pyelonephritis.
A UTI can be caused in many ways, and different risk factors are associated with different age groups and lifestyle choices. Women are much more likely to experience a UTI during their lifetime. Over 50% of women will experience a UTI, and many of them will experience recurrent infections. While UTI rates among pregnant women are not higher than other women, infections are more likely to reach the kidneys, which can be very dangerous.
Some common risk factors associated with UTIs include:
- Sexual activity, especially for women
- New sexual partners
- Female anatomy - Women have a shorter urethra than men, which shortens the distance that bacteria must travel to reach the bladder.
- Manopause - A decline in circulating estrogen causes changes in the urinary tract that make you more vulnerable to infection.
- A weakened immune system
- Some types of birth control
- Poor toilet habits
- Catheter use
Let's take a look at seven ways to prevent a urinary tract infection. Remember, prevention is always better than cure.
7 Ways to Prevent a UTI Naturally
While UTIs are an unavoidable part of life in some situations, there are many great ways to minimise the risk of developing a UTI. Natural methods of prevention are always better than cure, especially when they're easy to implement. Let's take a look at seven simple ways to prevent a UTI naturally.
1. Urinate Before and After Intercourse
UTIs are much more likely to develop when you don't urinate, so it's important to pee as soon as you feel the urge. Instead of holding on, you should empty your bladder on a regular basis. This is especially critical before and after sex because your sexual organs and bladder removal functions share some of the same physical body parts. Along with reducing the chance of developing a UTI, peeing before and after sex helps to improve your comfort levels by decompressing the bladder.
Urinating before and after sexual intercourse may help to reduce the chances of getting a UTI. Whether you're a woman or a man, your urine stream plays an essential role in cleaning your body. When you pee, you are instantly cleaning and flushing any bacteria that may have built up around your sexual organs. When bacteria are flushed away, it is less likely to enter the urethra and lead to a UTI. Pre and post-coital voiding is especially important for women, as the urethra is closer to the anus in the female anatomy.
2. Drink Cranberry Juice
Cranberry juice or cranberries are often consumed by people in an effort to prevent UTIs. Cranberries are composed of water, organic acids, fructose, vitamin C, flavonoids, anthocyanidins, catechins, and triterpenoids. The fructose, anthocyanidins, and proanthocyanidins in cranberries can play a vital role in helping to prevent UTIs. These substances help to prevent the E. coli bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract lining cells. Along with regularly flushing out bacteria by drinking water and urinating regularly, cranberry juice can stop bacteria from entering your body.
While the mechanism of action is not totally clear, cranberry juice is thought to prevent the adhesion of bacteria by stopping it from infecting the mucosal surface. In addition, cranberries can also decrease the virulence of certain E. coli strains. However, while cranberries can be effective, they do not have a significant effect in all cases. If you plan on consuming cranberry juice in high doses, it's important to speak with your doctor, as cranberries can alter the effectiveness of some antibiotics.
3. Avoid Using Any Perfumed Products
The best way to prevent UTIs is to minimise excessive harmful bacteria. Along with regularly flushing your system, it's important to steer clear of irritating beauty and fragrance products. As mentioned, women are much more likely to get a UTI than men, and they're also more likely to use perfumed products. Beauty and hygiene products that include chemicals and perfumes can cause the growth of E. coli and other microorganisms. If helpful bacteria get out of balance with harmful bacteria, it may result in a UTI, bacterial vaginosis, or yeast infections.
If you're allergic to certain products, you may experience inflammation, itching, and general discomfort. Allergic reactions can also result in swelling, redness, and discharge. If you experience any of these symptoms and are prone to UTIs, it's important to eliminate chemical products immediately. You can help to prevent UTIs by avoiding artificial fragrances and chemicals, from douches and deodorant sprays to scented powders and feminine products. Even perfumed toilet paper and synthetic fabrics such as polyester and rayon can lead to allergies for some people. Instead, use natural products and wear cotton underwear.
4. Wipe From Front To Back
Clean and healthy bathroom habits can help you minimise the chance of developing a UTI. Harmful bacteria tend to cluster around the anus, so it's important to avoid exposure to this part of your body. If you wipe from front to back, instead of the other way round, E. coli and other bacteria are far less likely to make it to the urethra. This is especially important after a bowel movement, although healthy wiping habits are always a good idea.
Healthy bathroom habits are also needed before and after sexual intercourse to minimise the chances of getting a UTI. You should clean yourself before and after sexual activity and urinate before and after sex to prevent problems from developing.
While healthy bathroom habits won't prevent UTIs in every situation, they are a great way to minimise your risk by reducing your exposure to harmful bacteria.
5. Start Taking Probiotics
UTIs and numerous other health conditions are due to an imbalance between healthy bacteria and harmful bacteria. Probiotics are live microorganisms full of beneficial bacteria. The consumption of certain microorganisms in probiotic formulations can be beneficial for the prevention of UTIs. There are several ways you can take probiotics to boost the health of your urinary tract.
Lactobacilli have shown the most promise for the prevention of UTIs, with L. casei Shirota and L. crispatus C TV-05 also showing efficacy in some studies.
Research involving healthy women has looked at the link between probiotics and UTIs, including some clinical trials with current UTI cases. Most studies have had encouraging findings for specific strains of lactobacilli, which have a good safety profile and can be used for recurrent infections. Along with helping to prevent UTIs, probiotics can help to improve digestive health, heart health, and mental health.
6. Avoid Holding Your Urine
One of the best ways to avoid UTIs is also the most simple. Instead of holding on when you need to pee, you should go to the toilet as soon as you feel the urge to urinate. While holding your pee generally won't cause problems if your urinary system is healthy, and can even be beneficial if you have an overactive bladder, it can also increase the chances of developing a UTI. The reason for this is simple: bacteria are more likely to sit and multiply in the bladder even when it is partially full.
Holding urine for any length of time can lead to problems if you have bladder, kidney, prostate, or urinary retention problems. While holding your pee won't cause a UTI by itself, it does increase your risk if you have any of these conditions. In fact, if harmful bacteria are present in your urinary system for any reason, holding your urine is more likely to multiply E. coli and cause an infection.
7. Drink Plenty of Water and Other Liquids
In order to flush out your urinary system, you need to urinate on a regular basis. The best way to ensure healthy urination habits is to drink lots of water and relieve yourself often. The objective is to flush bacteria out of your bladder and urinary tract before it has an opportunity to settle in. While alcohol, coffee, and other caffeinated beverages might seem like a good idea, they can have the opposite effect when it comes to hydration.
If you already have a UTI, it's essential to drink lots of water and other liquids to help flush out the bacteria. It's also important to avoid any foods that may irritate your bladder, including spicy foods and acidic fruits such as oranges and lemons. While these things are fine to eat when you're healthy, they can lead to additional discomfort and worsening symptoms when you have a UTI.
If you want to avoid a UTI, the best advice is to stay healthy, keep active, and enjoy lots of fresh food. There are up to 100 trillion microbial cells living on the human body at any time, which is 14,000 times more than the number of people on Earth. Generally speaking, problems only develop when harmful microbes and helpful microbes get out of balance. If you follow the advice above and do everything you can to stay fighting fit, you can minimise the chances of developing a UTI and live a comfortable and healthy life.