If you feel like you always have a urinary tract infection (UTI), you’ve got company. UTIs are common little infections caused by bacteria that make their way to the urinary tract from either the rectum or surrounding skin. UTIs can live anywhere along your urinary tract from the bladder to the urethra, ureters, and kidneys. And as many as 60 percent of women have had a UTI sometime in their life.
UTI Symptoms Include:
- A strong urge to urinate
- Burning while urinating
- Passing frequent small amounts of urine
- Cloudy looking urine
- Bright red or cola-colored urine which indicates blood
- Strong smelling urine
- Abdominal pressure
- Pain in the pelvic area
Recurrent UTIs mean having two infections in six months or three within a year. And one in five women has recurrent infections. There are many causes for UTIs, a few of which include your anatomy and age—women have shorter urethras than men for instance, and the urethra is located near the vagina and rectum where bacteria can easily spread to it. Plus, post-menopausal women may be at greater risk since the hormonal changes to the microbiome in the vagina during menopause may leave women more vulnerable to infection.
Why Do Some Women Get Recurrent UTIs Despite Treatment?
After vaginal health testing, your doctor will likely prescribe one of a handful of effective antibiotics that treat UTIs effectively. She may even select a different antibiotic if a culture from your vaginal health testing identifies the bacteria, which allows her to select an even more effective antibiotic. You may even feel better, and your symptoms may disappear after antibiotic treatment. But then, you get another UTI again within a short time. Welcome to recurrent UTIs.
How Can You Prevent Recurrent UTIs?
The best way to prevent a UTI or recurring UTIs is to work with your doctor and get vaginal health testing when you do get an infection. These these health and lifestyle tips that can also help prevent UTIs:
- For sexually active women, ask your doctor about prescribing an antibiotic to take before and after sexual activity to help prevent recurrences.
- For post-menopausal women, ask your doctor about vaginal estrogen cream that may help reduce recurrent infections.
- Drinking plenty of fluids like water will help you urinate more frequently to flush bacteria out of your body. This study found drinking more water reduced bladder infections.
- After a bowel movement, wipe front to back, reducing the chance for bacteria to enter the urethra.
- Take showers rather than baths.
- Urinate right after sex to help flush any bacteria away.
- Never douche or use feminine deodorant products, which can cause infections.
- Wear breathable cotton underwear so that moisture isn’t trapped.
- Take steps to normalize your vaginal microbiome by eating probiotic-rich foods like tempeh, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, exercising, and avoiding tight-fitting clothing.
- Change birth control if you’re using spermicide-treated condoms or diaphragms that can cause bacterial growth.
Another thing older women can do is to double void, which means to urinate, and then go back and urinate again right away. Older women may retain some urine in their bladder, which gives it the opportunity to build up bacteria. Double voiding can prevent UTIs.
What about drinking cranberry juice? Researchers know that cranberry juice won’t help cure a UTI if it’s already started. But the jury is still out on whether it can help prevent one from starting in the first place. At one time, researchers thought a substance in cranberries called proanthocyanins could prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder thus preventing UTIs. But a review of 24 large studies was not conclusive when it came to whether juice or cranberry supplements prevent UTIs. Doctors say to drink the juice if you like it and want to, but there’s no conclusive data on its ability to prevent infections.
Complications of UTIs
If you do get recurrent UTIs, see your healthcare provider right away to begin treatment. Untreated UTIs can cause kidney damage, premature birth in pregnant women, and sepsis, a life-threatening infection. Working with your doctor and following good lifestyle and health habits to prevent UTIs may help in reducing their recurrence.