A urinary tract infection (UTI) happens when an infection develops in your urinary system. It most often affects the lower urinary tract, which includes the bladder and urethra.
If you have a UTI, you’ll likely have a persistent need to urinate. Other common symptoms include burning when you pee and cloudy urine.
UTIs are common, but it’s possible to minimize the risk of getting one. In this article, we’ll explain the steps you can take to lower your chance of having a UTI, as well as ways to reduce the risk for people of all ages.
Women get more UTIs than men. This is because women have a shorter urethra — the tube that brings urine out of the bladder. This allows bacteria to enter the urethra and bladder more easily.
Also, a woman’s urethral opening is closer to the anus, where most UTI-causing E.coli bacteria are found.
Other factors that can further increase the risk of UTI include:
- frequent sexual activity
- new sexual partners
- some types of birth control
In both men and women, UTI risk factors include:
UTIs can’t always be avoided, but it’s possible to reduce your risk of getting one. Here are nine prevention methods that may help you sidestep a UTI.
1. Wipe front to back
Since the rectum is a main source of E.coli, it’s best to wipe your genitals from front to back after using the bathroom. This habit decreases the risk of bringing E.coli from the anus to the urethra.
It’s even more important to do this if you have diarrhea. Having diarrhea can make it hard to control bowel movements, which may increase the chance of E.coli spreading to the urethra.
2. Drink plenty of fluids
Stay hydrated throughout the day. This will make you pee more frequently, which flushes bacteria out of your urinary tract.
Water is the best choice. Aim for 6 to 8 glasses per day. If it’s hard for you to drink that much water, you can also increase your fluid intake by drinking sparkling water, decaffeinated herbal tea, milk, or smoothies made with fruits and vegetables.
Try to limit or avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks, which may irritate the bladder.
3. Avoid holding your pee
Avoid holding in your urine, as this can encourage bacterial growth. Try not to wait more than 3 to 4 hours to pee, and completely empty your bladder each time.
This is even more important if you’re pregnant as pregnancy puts you at an increased risk for a UTI. Holding your pee can further increase the risk.
4. Urinate before and after sex
Sexual activity increases the chances of getting a UTI, especially if you’re a woman. That’s because bacteria can easily get into the urethra during sex.
To reduce your risk, pee immediately before and after sex. The idea is to flush out bacteria that may cause UTIs.
It’s also a good idea to gently wash your genital area before sex. This can help keep the area clean and reduce the chance of bacteria spreading to your urethra.
5. Avoid scented products
The vagina naturally contains more than 50 different microbes, many of which are a type of bacteria called Lactobacilli. These bacteria help keep the vagina healthy and the pH level balanced.
Avoid using products such as:
Scented bath oils, soaps, and bubble baths can also irritate the genital area and cause an imbalance in vaginal bacteria.
6. Explore birth control options
Some types of birth control might promote an overgrowth of harmful bacteria. This includes:
If you think your birth control is causing UTIs, talk with your doctor. They can walk you through the different options and help you find an alternative method that’s right for you.
7. Take probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms that can increase good gut bacteria. They may also help promote the growth of good bacteria in the urinary tract. This could help protect you from getting a UTI.
Generally, Lactobacillistrains have been associated with less frequent UTIs. There are several ways you can take probiotics to boost the health of your urinary tract, including:
- eating fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, or tempeh
- taking probiotic supplements
- using probiotic suppositories
8. Get antibiotics
If you get UTIs that don’t respond well to treatment or keep coming back, your doctor might recommend a small daily dose of oral antibiotics. This can help prevent a UTI by controlling harmful bacteria.
You’ll likely have to take the antibiotics after sex or when you first notice UTI symptoms. The drawback, however, is that prolonged antibiotic use can lead to antibiotic resistance. Your doctor can determine if this is the right prevention method for you.
9. Consume cranberries
Cranberries are a traditional home remedy for preventing UTIs. The berry has compounds called proanthocyanidins that may prevent E.coli from adhering to tissues in the urinary tract.
It’s also thought that vitamin C in cranberries may increase the acidity of urine, which might reduce overgrowth of bad bacteria.
Scientific research shows conflicting results. Some studies have found that cranberry extract reduces the frequency of UTIs, while others haven’t found the same effect.
Though it’s not clear if cranberries can prevent UTIs, it’s a low-risk remedy. If you’d like to consume cranberries, opt for unsweetened, pure cranberry juice instead of sugary cranberry cocktails. You can also eat fresh or frozen cranberries.
Older adults are also at a higher risk of getting a UTI. This is often due to:
- age-related changes in immune function
- bladder or bowel incontinence
- catheter use
- cognitive impairment
In addition to the prevention methods outlined above, estrogen replacement therapy can help prevent UTIs in older women.
It’s not only adults who get UTIs. Babies and children can get them, too. Bladder and kidney infections are the most common types of UTIs among children, especially girls.
Teaching the following habits may help prevent UTIs in children:
- taking bathroom breaks every 2 to 3 hours
- completely emptying the bladder
- taking time while peeing
- teaching girls to wipe from front to back after urinating
- avoiding tight underwear or clothes
- avoiding bubble baths
- staying hydrated
Sometimes, a UTI doesn’t cause any signs or symptoms. If it does, you may have:
- a strong, constant urge to pee
- burning while urinating
- peeing only small amounts of urine
- cloudy urine
- bloody urine (red, pink, or cola-colored)
- smelly urine
- pelvic pain (in women)
Visit a doctor if you notice these symptoms. They’ll likely do a urine test. If you test positive for a UTI, your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics.
There are many ways to reduce your risk of getting a UTI. Natural remedies include healthy bathroom habits, urinating before and after sex, and taking probiotics.
Medical methods involve antibiotics or a different form of birth control. Perimenopausal and postmenopausal women may benefit from estrogen therapy, which rebalances vaginal bacteria.
Talk to your doctor about the best ways to prevent a UTI. You can discuss different options and determine what works best for you.