More than half of American women will experience a urinary tract infection at some point in their lives. Not only that, but half of those who get a UTI will contract another one within six months.
The good news is there are common treatments for UTIs as well as ways to prevent recurrence and even to help you keep yourself from getting UTIs in the first place.
UTIs can occur when bacteria microbes get inside the urinary tract, most often because E. coli bacteria has been transferred from the skin, rectum or bowel. An infection can be present in the urethra, ureters, bladder or kidneys. Kidney infections can occur as well and are more serious than a regular UTI.
Women are more likely to contract UTIs because their urethra is shorter, allowing the bacteria to enter the urinary system more easily. However, men can get UTIs as well, says Katie Boerst, a nurse practitioner with ThedaCare Physicians-Darboy.
Pain or burning during urination is one of the most common indicators that you have a UTI, Boerst says. You might also feel the urgent need to urinate, develop cloudy or strong-smelling urine, or experience pelvic or back pain.
If you suspect you have a UTI, seek care promptly. Contact your primary care provider or visit an urgent or walk-in care clinic as soon as you begin to experience symptoms. While you may be reluctant to seek care at the first sign of pain, it’s important to see your provider right away, as untreated UTIs can spread and turn into sepsis, which can be deadly, Boerst says.
Women who are pregnant or individuals who have other conditions such as diabetes, an enlarged prostate or use a catheter particularly shouldn’t wait to be seen, Boerst adds.
You’ll undergo a urinalysis to confirm the type of infection you have, and once the UTI is confirmed, you’ll often be treated with a course of antibiotics.
If you’re experiencing signs of serious infection, go to the emergency department, Boerst says. Those symptoms include fever, chills, vomiting, blood in the urine, or pain in the lower back/flank.
You can help prevent UTIs from knocking you down in the first place by taking a few steps:
- Focus on hygiene. Always wipe from front to back to avoid transferring harmful bacteria to your urethra.
- Wear cotton underwear as opposed to synthetic underwear, as natural fibers help prevent moisture from being trapped.
- Stay hydrated. “Studies show that cranberry juice or cranberry supplements also can help to flush bacteria from your urinary system,” Boerst says. “But we also encourage patients to stay well-hydrated generally because drinking plenty of water can help you recover from a UTI faster — and can help you prevent one in the first place.”
- Think about your fixtures. More commonly found in Europe, bidets are another option for helping to maintain genital area cleanliness. More American homes are installing them, and there are attachments available for standard toilets.
If your UTI returns, note that one of the main causes is frequent sexual intercourse. “Always empty your bladder after sexual intercourse to help flush bacteria naturally,” Boerst says.
And if you continue to experience multiple UTIs, it may be time to see a urologist.
“A specialist can help pinpoint underlying causes such as more serious health issues and help you find some relief,” Boerst says. “Don’t hesitate to talk to your provider about any concerns you have about your urinary health.”
Need care for a UTI?
ThedaCare offers both in-person and online care options.