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A urinary tract infection (UTI) is the most common type of infection and usually requires basic outpatient treatment with antibiotics. When you develop a UTI, the symptoms can make it hard to go about your day, but you may not be eager to schedule an appointment with your doctor. This article will tell you some things you can do to help your discomfort and help you decide when a doctor’s visit is really necessary.

Do you have a UTI?

Because symptoms of a UTI can vary greatly from person to person, you will not be able to know for sure that you have a urinary tract infection without getting tested. The following symptoms indicate that you should seek evaluation for a UTI:

  • Strong urge to urinate, even if there is not a lot of urine coming out
  • Frequent urination, sometimes almost immediately after you just went
  • Low urine output
  • Burning or pain when you urinate
  • Feeling like you can’t empty your bladder
  • Cloudy urine
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Red, pink, or brown-colored urine
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Pelvic pressure
  • Low-grade fever

Again, the most definitive way to know if you have an infection is to check in with a doctor. A urine test in a doctor’s office will determine whether or not you have an infection, what kind of bacteria is causing it, and what the best antibiotic is to treat it. A doctor can also start you on antibiotics to provide relief for the infection the same day. When in doubt, go and see your doctor.

So, can you treat a UTI at home? 

It’s complicated.

If it is your first time suspecting that you have a UTI, schedule that appointment with your doctor or go to an urgent care center to get a formal diagnosis and treatment. Of note, if you are a person with a penis, then you should always see a doctor if you suspect you have a UTI as the situation could potentially be more complicated.

Some people may experience more frequent UTIs, and they become better at diagnosing their own UTIs from symptoms. If you are one of these people, you may notice a window of 1-2 days where symptoms are mild, but suggestive of a brewing UTI. During this time, aggressive home treatment can sometimes prevent a full on infection and all of the unpleasantries that entails. 

Of note, if your symptoms are getting worse during this time or not improving after the 2 day window has passed, seek prompt medical attention. 

Medical treatment with antibiotics is often still necessary to treat an infection and avoid serious complications.

8 Ways to Alleviate UTI Symptoms at Home

While you’re waiting for the antibiotics to take effect, here are some ways to alleviate the symptoms at home:

1. Drink more water.

Urination is your body’s natural liquid waste removal process. Each time you pee, you flush bacteria out of your urinary tract. Bacterial infections have to spread against the flow of urine, so if you have an infection, urinating more will make it more difficult for the infection to take root and grow. To boost your urine output, drink more water during the day. Make sure to finish at least eight, 8-ounce glasses to encourage urine production. If your urine is clear or very light yellow when it comes out, you are doing great.

2. Modify your diet.

Some foods and drinks can irritate the bladder and worsen UTI symptoms. Until your symptoms resolve, try to limit or avoid:

  • Alcohol, including beer, wine and spirits
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Caffeine like coffee, tea, energy drinks, and chocolate
  • Dairy products
  • Fruits like citrus, apples, grapes, and peaches
  • Spicy foods
  • Sugar
  • Vinegar

Temporarily cutting out these foods won’t cure an UTI, but it may make the symptoms more manageable during the healing process. If you are a person who gets frequent UTIs, limiting these in your diet can help to reduce the frequency of your infections.

3. Give cranberry juice a try.

Cranberry juice is an oft-mentioned folk remedy for UTIs, but scientific evidence has been mixed. Some studies do show it may decrease your risk of developing a UTI by up to 30%. Although there’s no guarantee that drinking cranberry juice will help with a UTI, it’s unlikely to hurt you.

Studies showing the efficacy of cranberry juice typically used large amounts of pure cranberry juice or concentrated cranberry capsules. (Sorry Ocean Spray lovers – might be a vibe, but probably won’t help your UTI.)

4. Alleviate symptoms with OTC medication.

While you give your body time to fight the infection, you may be able to manage symptoms with over-the-counter phenazopyridine hydrochloride. It’s sold under the brand name AZO and as generic versions. The medication is a urinary pain reliever — it won’t treat a UTI, but it can temporarily alleviate the urgency, burning, pelvic pain and pressure associated with an infection.

This should only be taken for up to 2 days, so be sure you are also taking steps for definitive treatment of the infection. If you’ve never taken this medication before, consult your doctor ahead of time to ensure it’s a safe choice for you.

5. Take a probiotic.

This is likely more beneficial for reducing the risk of UTIs in people who get them frequently, rather than fighting off a current infection. Probiotic supplements contain beneficial bacteria that support your immune system and fight harmful bacteria. A systematic review of scientific studies revealed that probiotics may complement the actions of antibiotics and reduce the risk of urinary tract infections in women, particularly those who are postmenopausal. There is not enough evidence yet to prove these benefits, but doctors may recommend probiotic supplements for UTIs based on what we do know about them.

When choosing a probiotic supplement, look for one that contains multiple bacteria strains. You can also boost your probiotic levels by eating probiotic-containing foods, such as:

  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Miso
  • Pickles
  • Sauerkraut
  • Sourdough bread
  • Tempeh
  • Yogurt

6. Use a heating pad.

Apply a warm, moist washcloth, hot water bottle, or heating pad to your belly to help alleviate some symptoms of a UTI. Heat increases circulation and may ease abdominal cramping and pain while your body fights the infection. If you’re using a hot water bottle or heating pad, wrap it in fabric—or use a removable cover to protect your skin.

7. Dress comfortably.

Restrictive clothes can rub against your urethra and worsen irritation, making it more difficult for your body to expel bacteria when you urinate. Wear loose clothing and breathable cotton underwear to support healing and help you feel more comfortable during a UTI. Breathable fabrics reduce dampness in the genital area, discouraging the growth of bacteria. This is also generally helpful for reducing the risk for recurrent UTIs.

8. Support your immune system.

Keep your immune system working at its best while antibiotics help fight the infection. Support yours by:

  • Managing stress
  • Getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night
  • Performing light to moderate exercise if you feel well enough
  • Eating a well-balanced diet rich in whole grains, lean proteins and vegetables

When to call your doctor right away

If you develop any of the following symptoms, call your primary care provider right away:

  • High fever
  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Pain in your side
  • Pain in your lower back

The above symptoms may indicate that the infection has spread to your kidneys. Unlike UTIs that affect your bladder and urethra, kidney infections are serious and require treatment by a doctor. Failing to properly treat a kidney infection can lead to organ damage or widespread, life-threatening infections.

The best way to treat UTIs

To cure a UTI, you will likely need a prescription antibiotic to treat the UTI and prevent a kidney infection. Antibiotics work by inhibiting the growth of bacteria and killing existing bacteria to clear up an infection. They complement the actions of your immune system to help you get better.

Doctors prescribe many types of antibiotics for UTIs. The one you receive depends on the type of bacteria causing the infection, your overall health profile, bacterial strains prevalent in your community, and what other medications you take. Some drugs commonly prescribed for urinary tract infections include:

  • Nitrofurantoin (Macrodantin, Macrobid)
  • Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim)
  • Cephalosporins like cephalexin (Keflex)
  • Quinolones like ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
  • Doxycycline
  • Fosfomycin (Monurol)
  • Amoxicillin

No matter which antibiotic you receive, be sure to:

  • Follow the dosage guidelines printed on the bottle
  • Don’t skip doses
  • Take the medication with or without food as recommended
  • Take the entire prescription, even if symptoms resolve
  • Report any severe side effects or allergic reactions to your doctor promptly

With Forward, you don’t have to put off treatment

As your primary care provider, Forward makes fitting medical care into your schedule simple. You can quickly schedule an appointment for a urinary tract infection and choose to talk to a doctor online or in person. Filling prescriptions for antibiotics is easy with delivery right to your door. We also offer convenient preventative checkups that include assessments and diagnostic testing. Our services complement your lifestyle and calendar, so you won’t have to put off treatment for a UTI.

No long waits. No surprise bills. No copays — ever.

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