How to Prevent and Treat Urinary Tract Infections
By Sage Claydon, MD, Urogynecologist—Virtua Female Pelvic Medicine
If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you can instantly recall it. The intense feeling that you need to pee, but you just can’t. And then when you do, it burns and you are SO uncomfortable. You call the doc and count the hours until the antibiotic kicks in.
UTIs are a common and inconvenient issue for many women. Whether you experience persistent UTIs (infections that don’t go away with treatment) or chronic UTIs (infections that happen often), there are some things you can do to prevent them.
What causes UTIs?
UTIs are caused by bacteria entering your urethra, which is the tube that carries urine out of your body. You may be at an increased risk for UTIs if you have certain problems, including:
- Vaginal dryness
- A condition that reduces the flow of urine, such as kidney stones
- An anatomical issue, such as a short urethra
- A condition that compromises your immune system, such as diabetes, pregnancy or multiple sclerosis
- Vesicoureteral reflux, which causes urine to flow backward from the bladder into the kidneys
When should I seek treatment for a UTI?
UTIs cause a burning feeling when you urinate, frequent urination and/or an intense urge to urinate without the ability to empty your bladder. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should consult your healthcare provider right away.
How are UTIs treated?
Your treatment will depend on your specific circumstances along with factors such as how frequently you're getting UTIs, your age and what seems to cause your UTIs.
For a simple UTI, your doctor will probably prescribe an antibiotic. As with any prescription, it’s very important to follow the dosing instructions and finish the entire course of medication. If you only experience UTIs after sex, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic for use only after intercourse.
If you’re experiencing frequent UTIs that continue to come back even after antibiotic treatment, you should consider taking a daily probiotic with 50 billion live lactobacillus cultures. Probiotics introduce good bacteria into your vagina and rectum while fighting bad bacteria. They’ve been shown to be effective at reducing the frequency of UTIs, while minimizing the risk of developing drug-resistant bacteria. Postmenopausal women can help fight bacteria that enter the bladder and prevent UTIs by applying estrogen vaginally, and taking cranberry pills and D-mannose.
If you have recurring UTIs or UTIs that don’t respond to treatment, it’s very important to discuss it with your doctor. Your doctor may conduct additional testing to determine if your UTIs are caused by another problem such as kidney or bladder stones, stress incontinence, immune system deficiencies, family history or anatomical defects.
Should all UTIs be treated?
The short answer is—not necessarily. Some women have bacteria in their urine but don’t experience UTI symptoms. This occurs most often in older women. The presence of bacteria in the urine can lead to unnecessary treatment that doesn’t eliminate the bacteria, but may result in resistance to antibiotics. The latest studies advise doctors NOT to treat a UTI unless the patient is experiencing symptoms.
How can I prevent UTIs?
There’s no guaranteed way to prevent UTIs. But, if you keep your immune system strong, it can help you fight off infections. Aim to live a healthy lifestyle, get plenty of sleep and eat a balanced diet. Other prevention strategies include:
- Drinking lots of water
- Eating a diet rich in vitamin C
- Taking probiotics to introduce good bacteria and fight bad bacteria
- Taking a cranberry pill (cranberry juice won’t help)
- Emptying your bladder frequently and completely
- Using gentle antibacterial soap when washing your bottom
- Avoiding hygiene that could potentially cause irritation
- Avoiding spermicidal jelly use (only thing shown to cause UTIs)
- Urinating after sex to flush bacteria away
Although it can take time to isolate the cause of persistent and chronic UTIs, there are many prevention and treatment options available. Your doctor can provide you with guidance and help you figure out what’s right for you.
Make an appointment with an expert
Call 844-896-6367 to connect with a Virtua women's health navigator to make an appointment with a Virtua female pelvic medicine specialist.
Updated May 14, 2021