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

Learn which habits to adopt—and which to avoid—to prevent UTIs.

Updated on January 3, 2024

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Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are among the most common infections in the United States. Each year, they lead to as many as 10 million visits to healthcare providers (HCP).

UTIs develop when bacteria travel up the urethra, the thin tube through which you urinate, and multiply. They occur most often in the bladder, a condition known as cystitis.

The symptoms of UTIs can be annoying or painful, and can include frequent urination, burning during urination, or cloudy, foul-smelling urine. While there are a number of remedies that allegedly prevent UTIs, there’s not a lot of evidence to support most of them. Here, however, are science-backed prevention tips to help you prevent UTIs.

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Water may be your best bet

You may have heard that drinking cranberry juice helps ward off UTIs. Although many studies have tested cranberry products, the general consensus is that they don’t help prevent UTIs. The notion persists, though, because certain compounds in cranberries known as A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs) may prevent bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract. The problem is that most cranberry products on the market don’t contain enough PACs to achieve that effect. Meanwhile, cranberries have more acidity than most fruits, which can actually irritate your bladder.

What drink may actually help with UTIs? Simple H2O.

A 2018 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at premenopausal people, the group most prone to UTIs. Researchers found that those who increased their water intake from 6 to 12 cups a day decreased their UTI rates by nearly half, compared to those who didn’t change their water consumption.

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

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A Rinse Before Sex May Help

Having sex—especially lots of it—may introduce bacteria into the urethra and bladder. Some experts advise urinating before and after sex to help flush out any bacteria that’s accumulated. However, existing evidence supporting the practice is mixed. Meanwhile, other research suggests that washing the outside of the genital area before sex may offer some benefit.

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Wipe from front to back

Wiping from back to front can spread bacteria from your anus 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 cleaning your anus and the outer lips of your vagina each day.

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Wear cotton underwear

Tight-fitting clothing can trap moisture in your genital region, providing a good environment for bacteria to grow. Stick with breathable fabrics, like cotton, as much as possible when choosing undergarments and clothes that hug between your legs.

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Don’t hold it in

Do you skip the bathroom when life gets busy, such as when a work meeting runs long or when you don’t want to miss the best part of a movie? If so, it can contribute to more frequent UTIs. Waiting to urinate can cause bacteria to grow. And if you’re holding in your urine over and over, it can lead to issues going in general. The best option is to go when you need to go.

woman washing hands with soap, soapy water, washing hands, clean hands
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Avoid douching

Douching, or washing the inside of 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 maintains a healthy balance of bacteria that protect against infections. It also cleans itself by making mucus that flushes away things like blood, semen, and vaginal discharge.

So, when it comes to cleaning your vagina, there’s not much you need to do. It’s best to clean the outside when you take a bath or shower each day and leave it at that. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to avoid soaps and stick with water.

Although UTIs are common, taking proper care of your urinary tract can help you avoid the discomfort that often comes with these infections. If you are having symptoms, see your HCP. The earlier you seek treatment, the earlier you can feel better.

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

UrologyHealth extra. Urology Care Foundation. Understanding UTIs Across the Lifespan.
Summer 2016.
Cleveland Clinic. Urinary Tract Infections. Reviewed March 7, 2020.
Cleveland Clinic. Can Cranberry Stop Your UTIs? February 5, 2020.
Hooton TM, Vecchio M, Iroz A, et al. Effect of increased daily water intake in premenopausal women with recurrent urinary tract infections: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(11):1509-1515.
Amiri FN, Rooshan MH, Ahmady MH, Soliamani MJ. Hygiene practices and sexual activity associated with urinary tract infection in pregnant women. East Mediterr Health J. 2009;15(1):104-110.
Office on Women's Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Urinary tract infections. Page last updated April 1, 2019.
Office on Women's Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Douching. Page last updated April 1, 2019.

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