How To Prevent a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
What is an UTI?
Urinary tract infection, or UTI, is a generic name given to a bacterial infection in any part of the urinary tract (diagramed at right). A UTI occurs when bacteria enter the body through the urethra, and colonize the bladder or kidneys.
- frequent urination
- urges with little or no subsequent urination
- burning at the meatus (or opening) of the urethra during urination
- pus in the urine
- blood in the urine
- cloudy urine
- abdominal pain
Most of us will get at least one UTI during the course of our lifetime, no matter how careful we may be. However, there are simple things you can do to minimize your risk and/or prevent reinfection. Both men and women are susceptible to urinary tract infections, but because of the proximity of the anus and vagina to the opening of the urethra on the female anatomy, women are much more vulnerable. Here are a few rules of thumb to reduce your likelihood of infection:
- Drink plenty of fluids every day, preferably enough to prompt urination every hour.
- Urinate frequently and try to empty your bladder each time you do.
- Do not "hold it," or ignore the urge to urinate.
- Wash your hands and genitals before and after sexual contact.
- Wear loose clothing during physical activity.
- Drink extra water during and after exercising.
- Take showers, rather than baths, or urinate soon after batheing.
- Reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake.
- Avoid refined sugars and starches, as they may feed bacteria, sticking as much as possible to high-fiber whole-grain foods.
- Drink at least one glass of cranberry, orange, or grapefruit juice daily to acidify your urine and kill existing harmful bacteria.
- Reduce your stress to boost your immunity.
- Take daily vitamins, particularly vitamins C and B6, as well as a magnesium-calcium supplement
A few tips specifically for women:
- Wipe from front to back after using the toilet, to keep bacteria from your vagina and anus away from your urethra.
- Be sure to urinate and drink a glass of water soon after sexual intercourse, to flush out any bacteria that might have entered the urinary tract before they have a chance to anchor.
- Change sanitary napkins frequently, as the blood may provide a bridge from the urethra to your vagina and anus.
- If you find yourself prone to UTIs, consider changing your birth control method, as some women find that certain contraceptives (such as vaginal suppositories and foams) irritate the urethra.
If you think you might have a UTI already, please make the earliest available appointment with your doctor. While the tips above may speed recovery, they are meant primarily as preventative measures, and are not a replacement for the antibiotics needed to cure your infection.