It starts with a twinge and before you know it, the simple act of peeing is an exercise in pain tolerance. Yep, you've got a bladder infection. Here are seven easy ways to prevent (and beat!) those annoying urinary tract infections.
Credit: Istockphoto

IstockphotoFrom Health magazine

It starts with a twinge, and before you know it, the simple act of peeing is an exercise in pain tolerance. Yep, youve got a bladder infection. And though its usually more of a nuisance than a serious threat to your health, you dont want to delay treatment or risk the wrong fix. Here, the lowdown on why urinary tract infections (UTIs) happen to good (and perfectly clean) people, and how you can keep them from happening to you.

1. Never stay mum
Half of all women will get a bladder infection at some point, according to the Mayo Clinic, and 20 percent of us are prone to frequent UTIs. Blame our hormones (of course) and our urethras (which are shorter than the male version, so they give bacteria a fast lane to the bladder), and then call the doc. The infection—marked by cloudy, bloody, or funky-smelling urine, burning during urination, and a full feeling in the pelvic area—wont go away on its own.

2. Pee before and after sex
Its no coincidence that a bunch of renegade bacteria decide to ambush your plumbing every time your sex life gets a lift. During intercourse, bacteria in your vaginal area can get pushed into the urethra by his penis, upping the odds that the bugs will take up residence in the bladder; peeing ASAP flushes them out. And if youre prone to UTIs, avoid positions like doggy-style and anal sex to help prevent bacteria from the bowel from sneaking into the vagina, says Marie Fidela Paraiso, MD, chief of urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. A word of caution on birth control, too: The spermicide nonoxynol-9—often used with condoms and diaphragms—can create a welcoming environment for bad bacteria.

3. Dont fight the urge to go
Holding it might seem like a good idea during that marathon morning meeting. But all that does is stretch your bladder, which may weaken muscles over time, making it harder for you to empty your bladder completely. The result: Any bacteria in your system stays put longer, hiking your risk of infection. Excuse yourself as soon as you feel the urge, says Melissa Goist, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at The Ohio State University Medical Center. If youre prone to frequent infections, take a bathroom break every few hours, whether you need to or not. And stay sufficiently hydrated (your urine should be light yellow to clear) to help flush out your system.

  • [ pagebreak ]
  • 4. Do cranberry—before trouble starts
  • Recent research suggests that antioxidants in cranberries (and those found in blueberries, too) may help prevent bacteria from finding a home—but only if you drink the juice or eat the fruit before you have symptoms. “The juice makes the urine more acidic, which helps ward off infection,” Dr. Paraiso says. Drink two glasses of cranberry or blueberry juice a day, or eat two servings of the berries themselves, especially if youre having lots of sex. Another healthy option: AZO Cranberry tablets ($9; drugstores), which are made from pure cranberries and have no added sugar—unlike the typical cranberry-juice cocktail.

5. Stock your lingerie drawer the smart way
Undies made from synthetics and other nonbreathable fabrics like silk trap heat and moisture, making it easy for bacteria to breed. Another culprit: thongs. That thin strip of fabric so close to your anus practically begs bacteria to hitch a ride to you know where. “Even if you practice excellent hygiene, your risk of infection is higher if you wear thongs,” Dr. Goist says. Its better to wear full-coverage underwear made of cotton or the latest thing in breathable fabrics—bamboo; try the Jockey Ultimates Bamboo Bikini ($9). Also on the nix list: bubble baths and douches. These alkaline products can toy with your vaginas naturally acidic pH, making it more bacteria-friendly.

6. Dont mistreat yourself
Grabbing leftover antibiotics or going for an over-the-counter remedy because you feel a UTI coming on are bad ideas. Not only could that delay recovery, but itll put you at risk for something serious like a kidney infection or, in extreme cases, sepsis—a potentially life-threatening blood infection (thats what happened to Mariana Bridi da Costa, the Brazilian model who died after a UTI went undiagnosed for too long). A bladder infection left untreated for more than 48 hours ups the risk of bacteria ascending into the kidneys, Dr. Goist says. See your doc so she can do a urinalysis and prescribe appropriate antibiotics—typically three to seven days worth, depending on the severity.

7. Ask what else might be wrong
Interstitial cystitis, a painful (and chronic) inflammation of the bladder, feels practically identical to a bladder infection. Symptoms tend to flare up in response to triggers like your period, allergies, stress, and sex. About 1 million Americans (mostly women) suffer from the condition, and researchers believe there may be a genetic link. There is no cure, but your doctor can recommend ways to treat the symptoms.