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A urinary tract infection (UTI) can knock you off your feet, causing a range of symptoms like bloody urine and pain in the lower abdomen or pelvic region.

These infections are responsible for roughly 8 million doctor visits each year and are the second most common type of infection to occur in the human body. They occur more often in women but can affect men as well.

Antibiotics are required to treat UTIs and can help speed up recovery, manage symptoms, and prevent complications. If left untreated, UTIs can lead to serious complications and health problems.

In addition to using antibiotics prescribed by a healthcare professional, there are several home remedies that may help ease symptoms and prevent recurrence.

We use “women” and “men” in this article to reflect the terms that have been historically used to gender people. But your gender identity may not align with how your body responds to this disease.

Your doctor can better help you understand how your specific circumstances will translate into diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment.

A urinary tract infection is a type of infection that occurs when bacteria enter the urinary tract and multiply. This infection can affect one or more areas within the urinary tract, including the:

  • urethra
  • bladder
  • ureters
  • kidneys

Symptoms

UTIs can cause symptoms such as:

  • painful, burning sensation while urinating
  • frequent urge to urinate, often producing little urine
  • lower abdominal pain
  • urine leakage
  • cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • bloody urine
  • lower back pain

If a UTI spreads to the kidneys, which is a serious infection, you may have symptoms like:

  • fever
  • upper back pain
  • nausea and vomiting

Causes

Though UTIs can affect anyone, they’re more common in women. In fact, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that 40 to 60% of women will have at least one UTI in their lifetime.

This is because people assigned female at birth have a shorter urethra, so it’s easier for bacteria to enter their bladder.

Urinary tract infections in men are often related to an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hypertrophy) blocking the flow of urine. This allows bacteria to have an easier time occupying the urinary tract.

In almost 90% of cases, the bacterium Escherichia coli is the cause of the UTI. E. coli is normally found inside the intestines. When confined to the intestines, it’s harmless. But sometimes, this bacterium gets into the urinary tract and causes an infection.

Sex may trigger a UTI in women. This is because intercourse can move bacteria from the anal area to near the opening of the urethra. Women can lower their risk of infection by urinating after sexual activity.

Using spermicides, diaphragms, and condoms may also raise the risk of a UTI. The risk is higher in people with a weakened immune system as well.

UTI fast facts

  • UTIs are the second most common type of infection.
  • E. coli is the cause of most UTIs, but viruses and other germs can also cause them.
  • There are 8 million UTI-related doctor visits per year in the United States.

Most UTIs aren’t serious if treated promptly with antibiotics. But if left untreated, the infection can spread up to the kidneys and bloodstream and become life threatening. Kidney infections can lead to kidney damage and kidney scarring.

Symptoms of a UTI usually improve within 2 to 4 days after starting antibiotic therapy. Many doctors prescribe an antibiotic for at least 3 days.

But some UTIs don’t clear up after antibiotic therapy, which may mean that a different type of antibiotic is required.

The overuse or misuse of antibiotics can also contribute to antibiotic resistance, a growing problem that can make it more challenging to treat issues like recurrent UTIs. Because of this risk, experts have been looking for other ways to treat UTIs alongside antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance 101

  • When certain antibiotics are prescribed repeatedly, the bacteria they target can grow resistant to them.
  • At least 2 million people per year in the United States contract antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

So far, preliminary studies have been promising. Some research has shown that UTIs may be treated without traditional antibiotics by targeting E. coli’s surface component for adhesion, FimH.

Typically, the urinary tract flushes away bacteria when you urinate. But according to researchers, FimH can cause E. coli to firmly attach to the cells in the urinary tract, which can make it hard for the body to naturally flush the bacteria from the urinary tract.

If researchers can uncover a way to target this protein with other types of therapies, there may someday be other treatment options for UTIs, in addition to antibiotics.

D-mannose is a sugar that sticks to E. coli. Recently, researchers have studied the possibility of using D-mannose and other mannose-containing substances to block the binding of FimH to the lining of the urinary tract.

One 2021 review concluded that D-mannose could help reduce the incidence of recurrent UTIs and improve quality of life.

More research is needed, but potentially, a medication that utilizes a mannose-containing substance that opposes FimH from attaching to the lining of the urinary tract could show promise for the treatment of UTIs caused by E. coli.

Researchers have also tested immune-boosting drugs as well, which could help urinary tract cells become more resistant to infections.

The American Urological Association (AUA) recommends vaginal estrogen as a non-antibiotic option for perimenopausal or postmenopausal women seeking to prevent recurrent infections.

Until there are more advancements in UTI treatment, antibiotics remain the most effective standard treatment.

Along with standard antibiotic therapy prescribed by a healthcare professional, you can try several home remedies to feel better sooner and reduce the likelihood of recurrent infections.

1. Try cranberries

Cranberries may contain an ingredient that stops bacteria from attaching to the walls of the urinary tract.

Though research is inconclusive, some studies suggest that you might be able to reduce your risk of UTIs with cranberry products, including unsweetened cranberry juice, cranberry supplements, or dried cranberries.

But other studies have noted that the use of cranberries to prevent UTIs doesn’t produce consistent results, so more research is needed.

If cranberry juice isn’t quite to your taste, consider trying AZO Cranberry Caplets. These cranberry powder caplets are designed to promote urinary tract health. Each box contains 50 caplets.

2. Drink plenty of water

Although urinating can be painful when you have a UTI, it’s important to drink as many fluids as possible — particularly water. Most adults should aim to drink between six and eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.

The more you drink, the more you’ll urinate, which can help flush harmful bacteria from the urinary tract.

3. Pee when you need to

Holding your urine or ignoring the urge to urinate can allow bacteria to multiply in your urinary tract. As a rule of thumb, always use the bathroom when you feel the urge.

It’s also important to make sure you’re fully emptying your bladder when you urinate, and to always urinate after sex, especially if you have a vagina. If you do, it’s also important to wipe front to back after you urinate.

4. Take probiotics

Probiotics promote healthy digestion and immunity. They also may be effective in treating and preventing UTIs when used alongside standard antibiotic therapy.

With a UTI, bad bacteria replace good bacteria in the urogenital system, especially those of one group called Lactobacillus. Probiotics can restore good bacteria and might reduce the recurrence of a UTI.

Though some research suggests that probiotics may be effective in UTI prevention and treatment, more studies are needed.

If you’re interested in trying probiotics for urinary tract health, consider Align’s Dualbiotic supplement, an easy-to-take pre and probiotic designed to help with digestive health.

5. Get more vitamin C

Increasing your intake of vitamin C may help boost your immune system.

But some research has found conflicting evidence for the effectiveness of vitamin C in treating UTIs, noting that not enough studies have been done to support this treatment.

Don’t love fresh-squeezed orange juice? Add a Nature’s Bounty Vitamin C caplet to your supplement routine. Each caplet contains 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C.

6. Wear loose clothing

Wearing cotton-lined and loose-fitting clothing may ease symptoms of an existing UTI infection by helping to keep the area dry and clean.

Tight-fitting clothing and certain types of fabric can trap moisture that allows bacteria to grow in the genital area, which could worsen the infection.

7. Consider switching birth control

Some older research suggests that certain contraceptives may contribute to the cause of UTIs in some women.

If you use diaphragms, spermicides, or nonlubricated condoms and get frequent UTIs, it may be worth talking with your doctor to consider other methods of birth control.

8. Use a heating pad

Applying a heating pad to your lower abdomen can help ease some of the discomfort that comes with a UTI and reduce frequent trips to the bathroom that can cause painful burning.

If you’re experiencing severe pain that doesn’t let up even with at-home methods, it’s probably best to see a doctor about your symptoms.

UTI supplement options

Read our full review of Uqora, a company that focuses on developing natural supplements for UTI prevention.

Some research estimates that 25 to 42 percent of uncomplicated UTIs can go away on their own. This is usually only common in women with no other health issues.

But there are some serious risks that can come from leaving a UTI untreated, including pyelonephritis and sepsis. Therefore, it’s important to talk with your doctor and seek treatment if you suspect you may have a UTI.

Here are a few tips for keeping UTIs at bay.

Skip baths

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend taking showers instead of baths to help prevent UTIs. If you’re prone to frequent UTIs, you may want to swap your soothing soaks with luxurious showers.

Invest in a bidet

Wiping from front to back after going to the bathroom can help prevent the spread of bacteria to the urethra, but it can be tough to clean thoroughly with toilet paper alone. Feel clean as a whistle without having to jump in the shower by installing an inexpensive bidet attachment, like the LUXE Bidet Neo 120.

A bidet isn’t just a great option for cleaning up after going number two. You can use it to freshen up after sex or while having your period.

Wash your genital area properly

Proper washing doesn’t include douching or the use of scented products. In fact, these can cause irritation and exacerbate down-there issues. Instead, choose a gentle cleanser, like Cetaphil, or wash with water alone.

Drink lots of water

The same advice for treating a UTI goes for preventing one. Drinking plenty of water on a regular basis helps flush out nasty bacteria that can lead to infections.

UTIs are painful. But with antibiotic treatment, you can alleviate the infection and stop the pain. Talk with your doctor if you have symptoms of a UTI. With proper treatment, you should begin to feel better in a few days.

Take your antibiotics as instructed — even after your symptoms improve — to prevent complications or a secondary infection.

If the UTI doesn’t resolve after antibiotic treatment or you end up with multiple episodes of a UTI, your doctor will likely do further testing.

This could be in the form of:

You may be referred to a urologist, depending on the severity of your UTI, or if you have chronic infections.

Certain strains of bacteria can cause UTIs. They can range from mild to severe. The degree of severity depends on multiple factors, including:

  • your immune system status
  • the bacterium causing the UTI
  • where in your urinary tract the UTI is happening

Your doctor will be able to provide you with an evaluation tailored to your needs in order to make the right diagnosis and determine the proper therapy.

Can UTIs go away on their own?

Research estimates that 25 to 42% of uncomplicated UTIs in women can go away spontaneously.

But keep in mind that there are risks associated with leaving UTIs untreated, so it’s important to seek treatment from a healthcare professional if you suspect you have a UTI.

Do you need to see a doctor to get antibiotics for a UTI?

You need to speak with your doctor or a licensed medical professional to be prescribed antibiotics for a UTI. This can usually be done in person, at the doctor, or over the phone.

If this is your first UTI or your symptoms are severe, it may be helpful to get treated in person. You may also want to consider an in-person visit with your healthcare professional to rule out sexually transmitted infections if you are sexually active or have multiple sexual partners.

How long do UTIs last?

With antibiotic treatment, symptoms of a UTI typically improve within 2 to 4 days.

But this can vary depending on many factors, including how quickly you receive treatment, the severity of your infection, and whether or not any complications arise.

Keep in mind that the course of antibiotics should be completed for UTI symptoms to completely resolve and prevent recurrent infections.

What’s the fastest way to get rid of a UTI?

Antibiotics are the fastest and most effective method for treating bacterial UTIs.

How long does it take for a UTI to go away without antibiotics?

Sometimes, UTIs clear up on their own. It can take about a week for symptoms to subside.

What’s the most effective home remedy for a UTI?

There is limited research on the effectiveness of UTI home remedies. If you’re experiencing symptoms of a UTI, especially if they’re severe, it’s important to consult with a doctor.

Do you need an antibiotic to get rid of chronic UTIs?

A short course of antibiotics is typically the first-line treatment for UTIs. But for chronic infections, a doctor might prescribe a long-term, low dose antibiotic.

UTI infections can be very common and are not usually serious if treated promptly with antibiotics prescribed by a healthcare professional.

If you suspect you may have a UTI or are experiencing any symptoms, be sure to speak with your doctor to get a proper diagnosis and be prescribed antibiotics.