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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 keep your urinary tract happy.

Medically reviewed in November 2020

Updated on October 25, 2021

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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 occur when bacteria travel up the urethra and multiply, most often in the bladder (a condition known as cystitis). The symptoms of UTIs—which may include frequent urination, burning during urination, or cloudy, foul-smelling urine—may be downright annoying. While there are a number of remedies that purport to prevent UTIs, there’s not a lot of evidence to support most of them. Here, however, are science-backed prevention tips to help you keep UTIs at bay.

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Water may be your best bet

You may have heard that cranberry juice prevents UTIs. Although many studies have tested cranberry products, the general consensus is that they don’t help prevent UTIs. The theory 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 women, the group most prone to UTIs. Researchers found that women who increased their water intake from 6 to 12 cups a day decreased their UTI rates by half, compared to women who didn’t change their water habits.

Talk with your HCP 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.

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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. Trying that certainly wouldn’t hurt, but 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

Your mom probably told you to wipe from front to back, but why is that necessary? Wiping the opposite way—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 your crotch area.

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Don’t hold it in

Do you skip the bathroom when a work meeting runs long or when you’re trying to avoid missing the best part of a movie? If so, 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, you may start to have problems going in general. Simply put, go when you need to go.

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Avoid douching

You’ve heard it time and time again, but it’s worth a reminder: 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 takes care of itself. It maintains a healthy balance of bacteria that protect against infections. It also cleans itself: The vagina naturally makes 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 of your vagina with warm water and mild soap 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 hassle and discomfort that often comes with these infections. If you are having symptoms, see your HCP. The earlier you seek treatment, the earlier you can get relief.

Sources:

UrologyHealth extra. Urology Care Foundation. Understanding UTIs Across the Lifespan. Summer 2016.
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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