Nearly Half of Women Get UTIs—Here’s How to Avoid Them

Drinks to avoid, habits to swear off and more ways to keep your urinary tract happy.

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The only other infection treated more often than pneumonia in emergency rooms in the US are urinary tract infections (UTIs), according to a study from the National Center for Health Statistics. UTIs are infections that occur when bacteria travel up the urethra and multiply, most often in the bladder (cystitis). More than eight million Americans visit their doctors because of UTIs each year.

Frequent urination, burning during urination or cloudy, foul-smelling urine—the symptoms of UTIs are downright annoying. And you’ve probably heard that there are some ways to prevent UTIs, but unfortunately, there’s not much science to back most of them up. However, we’ve got the scoop on the best prevention tips.

Medically reviewed in October 2018.

Water—not cranberry juice—may be your best bet

2 / 7 Water—not cranberry juice—may be your best bet

If you’re wondering about the long-standing notion that cranberry juice prevents UTIs, wonder no more. Many studies have tested cranberry products and overall it seems that they don’t help with preventing UTIs. The theory persists, though, because some compounds in cranberries—A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs)—may prevent bacteria from latching to the urinary tract. The thing is, most products on the market don’t have enough PACs in them to actually do that. Cranberries also have more acidity than most fruits, which can further irritate your bladder. 

It doesn’t hurt to stick with water, suggests a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in October 2018. The report concluded that premenopausal women (the group most prone to UTIs) who upped their water intake from 6 to 12 cups of water a day decreased their UTI rates by half, compared to women who didn’t change any of their water habits. Beyond that, there’s not much other research showing it helps. 

Talk with your doctor about the right amount of water for you. Some people with certain kidney problems or those taking diuretics may need to be careful about how much water they drink. 

Hit the bathroom before and after intercourse

3 / 7 Hit the bathroom before and after intercourse

There aren’t a lot of specific studies that prove urinating before and after sex helps prevent UTIs, but some experts say it’s worth a shot because it’s not going to cause any harm, especially if you’re prone to getting UTIs.

Having sex—especially if you have lots of it—can introduce bacteria, so urinating before and after may help flush out any bacteria that’s accumulated.

Wipe from front to back

4 / 7 Wipe from front to back

Your mom probably told you to wipe from front to back growing up, but why is it necessary? Well, wiping the opposite way—from back to front—can spread bacteria from your bowels to your urinary tract, and in turn, cause UTIs.

Practice healthy hygiene by always wiping front to back when you go to the bathroom and cleansing your vagina and anus, the place between your buttocks, each day.

Wear cotton underwear

5 / 7 Wear cotton underwear

Tight-fitting clothing can trap moisture in your genital region, causing bacteria to grow. Common advice is to pick breathable options, like those made of cotton that won’t breed bacteria. As much as you can, stick with breathable fabrics when choosing undergarments and clothing items that hug your crotch area.

Don’t hold it in

6 / 7 Don’t hold it in

Do you hold it in when your work meeting runs long? Or skip the bathroom so you wont miss a minute of that new hit movie? If you answered yes to either question, then you aren’t doing your urinary tract any favors. Waiting to urinate can cause bacteria to grow, and if you’re holding in your urine over and over again, you may even start to have problems going in general.

When you need to go, go.

Avoid douching

7 / 7 Avoid douching

You’ve heard it time and time again, but it’s worth a reminder: douching, or washing the vagina with a mixture of fluids like water and vinegar, baking soda or iodine, is not necessary and can actually cause problems.

Your vagina naturally takes care of itself—it maintains a healthy balance of good and harmful bacterial that protects against infections, and cleans itself, too. The vagina naturally makes mucous that flushes away blood, semen and vaginal discharge.

So, when it comes to cleaning your vagina, there’s just not much you need to do. It’s best to clean your vagina with warm water and mild soap when you take a bath or shower each day, but other than that, your body knows what to do. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to avoid soaps and just stick with water.

Although UTIs are common, taking proper care of your urinary tract can help you avoid the hassle—and discomfort—that comes along with these infections. If you are having symptoms, see your doctor; the earlier you seek treatment, the earlier you can get relief.

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