Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are painful and annoying. A burning sensation, fever, and a frequent need to go to the bathroom top the list of symptoms. According to the American Urological Association, UTIs affect 60 percent of women and 12 percent of men at least once during their lives, putting them among the most common infections out there.
Antibiotics are a first line of defense, but there are many natural remedies that can both ease symptoms and help to treat a UTI.
Many of these tried-and-true treatments can also successfully prevent recurring UTIs, dramatically reducing the risk of future infections.
UTIs are caused when normal gastrointestinal flora (most commonly E. coli bacteria) make their way into the urinary tract. This includes the kidney, bladder, ureters (the tubes that connect your kidney to your bladder) or urethra (the tube linking your bladder to the outside world). If not treated properly, UTIs can lead to kidney infections and serious systemic symptoms, including permanent kidney damage and sepsis.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, women are 50 percent more likely to get a UTI than men. The reason is anatomical: people who have a vagina also have a shorter urethra, so it is easier for harmful bacteria to get into the urinary tract and cause problems. Being sexually active or post-menopausal increases risk.
Book a doctor’s visit if you think you’re suffering from a UTI. While virtual appointments can be helpful for diagnosing certain symptoms, you’ll likely need to visit an office in order to provide a urine sample that can be tested for signs of infection. The National Kidney Foundation estimates that UTIs are responsible for nearly 10 million visits to a doctor each year.
Antibiotics are the first step in UTI treatment. These simple home remedies can also help treat, and take the “ouch” out of, your UTI:
• Drink water, and plenty of it. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), we should drink between six and eight eight-ounce glasses of liquid (preferably water) every day.
• Use a heating pad. The NIDDK also recommends placing a heating pad on your back or abdomen to help relieve the pain caused by a UTI. This does not treat the UTI, but it’s a good way to ease uncomfortable symptoms.
• Drink cranberry juice. According to the FDA, drinking 8 ounces of cranberry beverages daily can possibly reduce the risk of recurrent UTI in healthy women — as long as it contains at least 27 percent cranberry juice. To date, research is inconclusive as to its effectiveness at treating a UTI, but findings have been positive enough to make grabbing a glass worthwhile.
• Urinate frequently. All that drinking will increase your urge to pee. Don’t ignore it! The more you urinate, the more bacteria you release.
• Take probiotics. As with cranberry juice, probiotics have not been conclusively proven to treat infections. But studies have shown that using probiotics in conjunction with antibiotics can help treat UTI symptoms. Grab some yogurt, or try an oral or vaginal supplement.
• Take a vitamin C supplement. Vitamin C helps boost our immune systems, and according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, taking large doses of vitamin C may acidify the urine, preventing the growth of harmful bacteria. Check with a doctor to find the right dose for you (note that you should choose a supplement instead of acidic foods, which can worsen UTI symptoms).
• Ask your doctor about taking vaginal estrogen, which can be helpful for treating UTIs in postmenopausal women.
• Wear loose, cotton underwear and trousers. Tight clothing can cause moisture to build up around the urethra, encouraging bacterial growth.
• Stop smoking. This one’s a no-brainer for pretty much every disease out there, but quitting smoking can dramatically reduce your risk of a UTI and relieve its symptoms, as can reducing your intake of or eliminating carbonated drinks, caffeine, and alcohol.
According to a systemic review study published in the Journal of Urology, a multi-targeted treatment approach is the most effective way to treat recurrent lower urinary tract infections.
Do you think you have a UTI? Book a virtual visit to discuss your options for a treatment and prevention plan that works best for you.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.