A urinary tract infection (UTI) can knock you off your feet.

UTIs occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract and multiply. They affect one or more areas within the urinary tract. This can include the:

  • urethra
  • bladder
  • ureters
  • kidneys

They can cause:

  • painful and frequent urination
  • lower abdominal pain
  • bloody urine

These infections are responsible for roughly 8 million doctor visits each year.

UTIs are the second most common type of infection to occur in the human body. They occur more often in women, but can affect men, too.

Women have a shorter urethra, so it’s easier for bacteria to enter their bladder. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates 40 to 60 percent of women will have at least one UTI in their lifetime.

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 percent 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 cleaning the genital area before any sexual activity and by urinating afterward.

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

UTI stats

  • 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. 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 two to three days after starting antibiotic therapy. Many doctors prescribe an antibiotic for at least three days.

While this type of medication is the standard treatment, researchers are noticing that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are reducing the effectiveness of some antibiotics in treating UTIs.

Some UTIs don’t clear up after antibiotic therapy. When an antibiotic medication doesn’t stop the bacteria causing an infection, the bacteria continue to multiply.

The overuse or misuse of antibiotics is often the reason for antibiotic resistance. This can happen when the same antibiotic is prescribed over and over again for recurrent UTIs. Because of this risk, experts have been looking for ways to treat UTIs without 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 can 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. And because of this tight grip, it’s 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, treating or preventing UTIs with antibiotics might become a thing of the past.

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 small, limited study from 2014 showed positive results when attempting to prevent recurrent UTIs.

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 in one way or another could show promise for the treatment of UTIs caused by E. coli.

Researchers are also currently testing immune-boosting drugs. These could help urinary tract cells become more resistant to infections.

While treating UTIs without antibiotics may be a future possibility, for now, they remain the most effective standard treatment. However, a prescription medication doesn’t have to be the only line of defense.

Along with standard therapy, you can incorporate 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. You might be able to reduce your risk with unsweetened cranberry juice, cranberry supplements, or by snacking on dried cranberries.

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. The more you drink, the more you’ll urinate. Urinating helps 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.

4. Take probiotics

Probiotics promote healthy digestion and immunity. They also may be effective in treating and preventing UTIs.

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

5. Get more vitamin C

Increasing your intake of vitamin C may help prevent a UTI. Vitamin C strengthens the immune system and may help acidify the urine to prevent infection.

UTIs are painful, but with treatment, you can overcome an infection and prevent recurrent infections. Talk to 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:

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

It’s also possible to have bacterial colonization in the urinary tract that’s not causing you to have a UTI. 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.

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