How To Prevent a UTI: 8 Tips That Can Help

Urologist-approved ways to help you avoid that painful, burning sensation when you pee.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are all too common—and once you've had one (and have experienced the constant need to pee and the burning sensation that comes along with it), you become determined to make sure you never have another.

The bad news: If you've already had a UTI, you're more likely to have another. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 30% to 44% of people develop a second UTI within six months of their first one. Luckily, there are still steps you can take to help prevent a UTI—and that begins with understanding (and avoiding) the habits that put you at risk.

Here, urologists discuss eight ways to prevent a future UTI, including simple daily tweaks and bigger lifestyle choices.

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Pee Early and Often

The main cause of a UTI is when bacteria makes its way into your urinary tract through your urethra (aka, the tube that allows urine to pass out of your body). So one way to make sure you lower your risk of a UTI is to ensure you're passing urine in a timely manner. When your body gives you signs it's time to go, don't wait.

"Every time you go to the bathroom, you're flushing bacteria from your system," Michael Herman, MD, urologist and director of urologic oncology at Mount Sinai South Nassau, told Health. "It's important to try not to hold your bladder too much. We advise people to go to the bathroom every four to six hours, so bacteria doesn't have a chance to grow in the bladder."

That also means that older adults and people with disabilities with mobility challenges may need some help to get to the restroom regularly to prevent a UTI. You might also need to remind your kids or other little ones in your care, who might not recognize when nature calls, to go throughout the day.

Drink Lots of Water

Staying hydrated delivers a double blow against potential UTIs. Not only does filling your bladder help you pee more frequently, but it also dilutes you urine—an additional benefit for keeping bacteria at bay.

"If you're well hydrated and go to the bathroom regularly, it never gives bacteria an opportunity to grow and proliferate and cause that infection," Dr. Herman explained.

A 2018 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine backs this up: When trying to figure out how to prevent UTIs, researchers looked at individuals who had recurrent bladder infections. They found that participants who upped their fluid intake by an additional 1.5 liters of water each day for a year developed significantly fewer UTIs than those who didn't change their water consumption.

While the study did not conclude precisely how much water you need to prevent a UTI, the Office on Women's Health (OWH) recommends drinking six to eight glasses of fluid per day. If you're prone to UTIs, it may be a good idea to keep your favorite water bottle close by.

Wipe From Front to Back

People with vaginas are taught to wipe front to back in childhood for a reason: It's because the main bacteria that cause UTIs—Escherichia coli (E. coli)—hangs out around the anus. It doesn't usually cause harm back there, but when it's accidentally pushed toward the front (say, on a piece of toilet paper), it can travel up the urethra and create a full-blown infection in your bladder.

"Wiping from front to back is absolutely important for preventing UTIs," said Dr. Herman. The mantra is also important to remember when you're on diaper duty to help prevent a UTI in toddlers or anyone you're helping go to the bathroom.

Pee Before and After Sex

Having sex increases the risk of a UTI among people with a vagina. Sometimes bacteria is accidentally pushed into your urethra.

Plus, since female urethras are much shorter than male urethras, bacteria practically have a shortcut to the urinary tract, which explains why people with vaginas get UTIs 30 times more frequently than people with penises.

But you don't necessarily need to swear off sex to prevent a UTI. Peeing both before and after you have sex can help keep bacteria out of your urinary tract—and help you prevent a full-blown UTI.

Even better news: You don't need to make a beeline to the bathroom the moment you both finish. "We tell people to go to the bathroom within 30 to 45 minutes of having sex if they're prone to UTIs," said Dr. Herman.

Try Cranberry Supplements

It's important to know the research on using cranberry juice to prevent UTIs is mixed, but there's a chance that taking cranberry could help.

Cranberry supplements contain a concentrated amount of a substance called proanthocyanidin-A (PAC). Research shows PAC makes it difficult for bacteria to stick to your bladder, thus reducing the risk of a UTI.

A systematic review published in the Journal of Urology in 2017 found that cranberry products can significantly reduce the occurrence of UTIs, especially for those prone to the infections.

But not all research was so promising: A 2014 randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that, in a setting of a long-term care facility, supplementation of cranberry capsules did not reduce the risk of UTI in low-risk individuals, as compared to placebo. (The capsules were, however, able to reduce the incidence of clinically defined UTI in high-risk individuals.)

While the consensus is still out, doctors may recommend cranberry supplements to those at a higher risk of developing UTIs.

"I do recommend cranberry extracts. It's a more effective way of concentrating the PAC into the urine, compared with juice, and there's no downside to it," Courtenay Moore, MD, urologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Health.

Ask About Hormone Replacement Therapy

You may be more at risk for a UTI if you have gone through menopause. When you go through menopause, your hormones may be thrown out of whack, which makes it easier for bacteria to invade your urinary tract.

"After menopause, the tissue around the urethra gets dryer and becomes an easier place for bad bacteria to grow, and less hospitable to good bacteria," Dr. Herman explained.

Estrogen replacement therapy may be one way to prevent UTIs. It helps bolster your lower urinary tract's mucus—a prime defense against bacteria—possibly by promoting the growth of healthy bacteria.

That said, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can pose significant risks. For some, HRT can increase the likelihood of:

  • Breast cancer
  • Blood clots
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

That's why you should talk with your healthcare provider about whether hormone replacement therapy is the right option to tackle your specific health issue.

Switch Your Birth Control

Depending on which type of contraception you use, birth control might create a breeding ground for the bacteria that causes UTIs. Spermicides, particularly, put you at a higher risk for these infections. Diaphragms, too, may increase the risk of UTIs.

"The vagina area is full of good bacteria, and that good bacteria usually crowds out bacteria commonly associated with UTIs. Spermicidal lubricants or jelly can interfere with the pH balance of the vagina and promote the growth of bad bacteria over good bacteria," explained Dr. Herman.

If UTIs have become a persistent problem, it may be a good idea to ask an ob-gyn about potentially switching birth control to see if it might help.

Avoid Using Irritating Products

If you've got a stash of douching supplies and feminine hygiene sprays in your bathroom, you should consider tossing them. They can disrupt the balance of good bacteria in your vagina and create a more hospitable environment for the germs that cause UTIs.

But it's not just douching supplies: "Even bubble baths can be a little bit of an irritant to vaginal mucosa," Dr. Herman added.

The main thing to remember about vaginal hygiene: Warm water is all you need when washing your vulva. Your vagina is self-cleaning.

You can help prevent potential UTIs by keeping it simple and avoiding harsh chemicals when cleaning and caring for your vagina.

A Quick Review

If you've had a UTI before, you may want to find ways to avoid getting another. This may include things like taking cranberry supplements, starting hormone replacement therapy, switching your birth control, or avoiding irritating products. Although UTIs are common, there are quite a few ways to prevent them.

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