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A majority of women will develop at least one urinary tract infection (UTI) over the course of their lives—and men can also contract UTIs, although they’re not as common in men. For some people, UTIs become a recurring problem and require frequent medical attention and repeated courses of antibiotics to manage. 

Why some individuals develop recurrent UTI’s is not fully understood, though studies that suggest genetic factors, rather than behavior, play a primary role. That said, if you experience frequent UTI’s, making small changes to your habits may reduce your risk of infection. 

While it may not be possible to completely prevent urinary tract infections, the following tips may lower the likelihood of contracting one. Many of these tips are geared toward women since they’re more likely than men to suffer from frequent UTIs, but some are also beneficial for men.

Understand the causes of urinary tract infections

Knowing your own body is the first step to preventing urinary tract infections. When you understand the root cause of most UTIs, it’s easier to understand how to protect yourself from them. Most UTIs occur in the lower urinary tract, either in the bladder, which stores urine, or in the urethra, the small tube that carries urine out of the body. Bacterial lower UTIs occur when bacteria becomes trapped inside of the urinary tract, causing inflammation that shows up as unpleasant symptoms like urinary urgency, abdominal pain, and a sensation of burning when you urinate.

Although many kinds of bacteria have the potential to cause UTIs, Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the cause of roughly 90 percent of all urinary tract infections. This type of bacteria lives in your digestive system, where it’s usually harmless. But if bacteria from your stool comes into contact with your urethra and gets inside, you may develop an infection.

Stay hydrated

Urinating is your body’s way of eliminating liquid waste, and each time you urinate, you flush out your urinary tract. Producing a healthy amount of urine on a daily basis can go a long way toward controlling the number of bacteria present. When you’re not properly hydrated, your body won’t make enough urine to efficiently wash waste and bacteria out of your body.

Increase your intake of fluids to support urine production. Water is always the best choice for healthy hydration, so aim to drink six to eight, 8-ounce glasses per day. To assess your hydration level, note the color of your urine. Your first-thing-in-the-morning urine should typically be light- to medium-golden in color. If the color of your urine is a darker amber, you may not be drinking enough water.

Consider cranberry juice

If you have frequent urinary tract infections, you’ve probably heard that cranberry juice can help treat the infection. This long-touted folk remedy for UTIs may reduce the risk of developing one, although the scientific proof is scant, but studies have yet to prove that drinking cranberry juice will get rid of a UTI. 

Multiple studies show that cranberry may make it harder for bacteria to stick to the urinary tract. Overall, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) reports that cranberry juice may reduce the risk of UTIs by up to one-third, but it cautions that some studies are of poor quality and may not be trustworthy—and that cranberry juice may not provide the same benefits for everyone. If you do decide to drink cranberry juice, make sure that cranberries are the main ingredient and look for one free of added sugars and artificial sweeteners.

Practice good hygiene in the bathroom

What you do after you go to the bathroom can have a big impact on your risk for UTIs. After you urinate or defecate, wipe from front to back. If you need to wipe again, either fold the toilet paper over, or use a fresh piece. Doing so makes it less likely that bacteria will travel from your anus to your urethra.

Also, consider switching from baths to showers if possible. In the warm environment of a hot bathtub, bacteria can thrive. As a result, you may unknowingly give any microbes already near or in your urinary tract an advantage. If you can’t eliminate baths, keep bathtime to a minimum and avoid using bubble baths, bath salts, and other products, which may irritate the urethra and cause bacteria to become trapped inside.

Urinate after intercourse

Sexual intercourse can raise your risk of developing UTIs. During sex, bacteria may enter the urethra, exposing you to a potential infection. Urinating soon after sex can help flush microbes out of the urinary tract. Even if you don’t feel a strong urge to go, make an attempt. If possible, clean your genital area with mild soap after intercourse.

Go when you need to

Having to stop what you’re doing to go to the bathroom is a hassle, but putting it off may increase your risk of a urinary tract infection. Holding your urine gives bacteria the opportunity to build up in your urinary tract. If you’re urinating so frequently that it interferes with your daily life, ask your primary care provider for advice. You may have overactive bladder syndrome (OAB), a condition that causes a strong urge to urinate and difficulty with bladder control.

Examine your birth control and lubricant

Scientific studies show that women who use diaphragms have an increased risk for developing a UTI compared to those who rely on oral contraceptives for birth control. The likelihood of developing a UTI rises if you use spermicide along with a diaphragm. Personal lubricants and condoms that contain spermicide may also contribute to UTIs by irritating the genital area and urethra. Steering clear of spermicides and exploring other birth control methods beyond a diaphragm may help you avoid future UTIs.

Take care of yourself during your period

During your period, your vaginal area becomes a moist environment that promotes the growth of bacteria. Change your tampon or maxi pad regularly to help minimize bacterial growth. As a general rule, you should change your tampon or maxi pad at least once every 6 to 8 hours—or more frequently if you’re experiencing heavy flow.

Modify your wardrobe

What you wear can influence how much bacteria grows in your genital area. Wear breathable cotton underwear to help inhibit bacterial growth and reduce your risk of UTIs and other vaginal infections. Also avoid wearing tight clothing that rubs or cuts into your groin, as it may irritate your urethra.

Rethink your feminine care routine

Certain feminine care products may play a role in developing a UTI. Specifically, anything that has added fragrance can cause irritation that makes bacteria more likely to become trapped in the urinary tract. Avoid scented tampons and maxi pads, and if you use powder, feminine deodorant spray, or personal care wipes, choose unscented, hypoallergenic options.

Douching, or cleaning out the inside of your vagina, may also put you at risk for UTIs. This practice can eliminate beneficial bacteria from the vagina and increase its acidity, encouraging the growth of harmful bacteria that may cause infections of both the vagina and the urinary tract. Douching also makes you more susceptible to vaginal yeast infections.

Reduce your intake of dietary bladder irritants

Your diet may contribute to bladder irritation that makes UTIs more likely to happen. Some foods and drinks that irritate the bladder include:

  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Coffee
  • Dairy products
  • Fruits
  • Spicy foods
  • Sugar
  • Tea
  • Vinegar

The good news is that most people aren’t sensitive to everything on the above list. If you develop symptoms like increased urinary frequency or urgency, try reducing how much of one particular food or beverage you consume for 10 days to see if symptoms improve. If they don’t, you can likely rule out that food or drink as a cause and try another.

Practice postmenopausal personal care

Hormonal changes that occur during menopause raise your risk of UTIs. Scientific research reveals that using estrogen cream or gel may reduce the risk of urinary tract infections in postmenopausal women. Your primary care provider can help you decide if one of these products is right for you.

When to see your doctor about frequent UTIs

If you keep coming down with UTIs, talk to your doctor. In some cases, an undiagnosed health condition may be responsible for your recurring symptoms. Some potential medical problems that make UTIs more likely include:

  • Diabetes
  • HIV
  • Kidney and bladder stones
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Abnormalities in the urinary tract

In addition, medications that suppress your immune system may increase your risk of UTIs. Your primary care physician can review all of your medications and may order tests to determine if you require treatment for another condition in order to reduce your frequency of UTIs.

How Forward can help you live a healthier life

As your primary care provider, Forward focuses on prevention as much as treatment. If chronic urinary tract infections are a concern, we can help you evaluate your lifestyle, habits, and personal care routine to uncover potential causes. We can also perform diagnostic tests and assessments to rule out underlying medical problems that may be contributing to frequent infections. We provide personalized advice regarding how to prevent UTIs and improve your overall health and well-being to positively impact every part of your life.

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