Learning how to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) is far more critical than many may realize. Every year, there are more than 150 million cases of UTI around the world.
It is the second most common infection diagnosed in the human body (infections of the respiratory system are in first place).
What is Your Urinary Tract?
Your urinary tract is the method your body uses to drain waste. Your kidneys filter blood of toxins, excess water, and bacteria. The ureters are tubes that connect the kidneys to your bladder where the waste is collected for expulsion. When you urinate, this collection of liquid waste is expelled through the urethra.
The type of urinary tract infection you have depends on which section of the system is affected. Acute pyelonephritis (infection of the kidneys), cystitis (infection of the bladder), and urethritis infection of the urethra). Your body is designed to protect you from such infections but it isn’t foolproof due to many diet and lifestyle factors.
Bacteria enter the urethra, quickly travel to the bladder, and begin to multiply. Left untreated, bacteria can continue to spread to the kidneys (a much more dangerous problem) so taking steps to prevent urinary tract infections is important to overall health.
Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infection
- Constantly feeling that you need to urinate (even if you just went)
- Very little urine when you use the bathroom
- Painful burning during urination
- Urine that is discolored (cloudy, pink, red, or brown)
- Your urine has a powerful smell that isn’t typical
- Pain around the center of the pelvic bone
- Fever, chills, or shaking (when infection spreads to the kidneys)
- Nausea or vomiting (when infection spreads to the kidneys)
- Pain in the upper back or side (when infection spreads to the kidneys)
Women are more prone to UTIs because of their anatomy. The exit of the urethra is located against the body and the urethra is shorter than a male’s. The “tropical” environment of female genitalia makes it easier for germs from the nearby vagina and anus to take hold. Every woman has more than a 50% chance of contracting a UTI in her lifetime.
Men experience UTIs but they are far less common and tend to be quite serious when they occur.
10 Ways to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections
1. Water. Water. Water. I talk water constantly because it is literally the best (and simplest) way to flush unwanted toxins from your body. In the case of UTIs, water makes you urinate more and push those nasty bacteria out of your system.
2. Simplify your birth control. While diaphragms were the birth control of choice decades ago, there are far safer, cleaner, and more effective methods now. They contribute to bacterial growth so change it up. Unlubricated condoms or those coated in spermicide can also increase your risk of UTI.
3. Post-coital urination is critical. After sex, use the bathroom and drink water. This helps to expel any surface bacteria that might travel inside the urethra.
4. Don’t hold it. When you feel like you need to go, make it happen. The longer you hold it, the longer you give waste products in your bladder to take hold and lead to infection. Go often and if you don’t need to go often, you’re likely not drinking enough.
5. Lift with your legs, not your back. Sustaining injury to your low back can damage the fragile nerves of your urinary tract and interrupt proper urine expulsion. Yet another reason to protect your body’s core.
6. Wipe “clean” to “dirty” always. Never wipe from your anus forward. Always wipe from your urethra back to lower germ exposure.
7. Urination is also the signal to change your tampon. Changing your feminine hygiene products often is so important to genital and urinary tract health. Leaving your tampon in during urination introduces bacteria to your vagina and if you don’t change it, the string leaves surface bacteria to re-invade your urethra.
8. There is such a thing as “too” much. Feminine hygiene products such as sprays, powders, and douches strip your body of bad and good bacteria your body needs to fight infection. They also cause surface irritation.
9. Pay attention to your urine. It’s important to notice changes to smell, color, or frequency of your urine. In order to prevent urinary tract infections, you need to listen to your body and do what you can to halt UTIs before they rage out of control. You don’t want it to come to that.
10. Cranberries still work. Your grandmother used cranberry juice and it’s still effective in the modern world. Though clinical studies have been “inconclusive,” I imagine you could talk to ten women today and all of them would recommend this holistic method to treat a painful UTI. The proanthocyanadins (PACs) in cranberries make it hard for bacteria to adhere. This is a great maintenance option. Drink six ounces of unsweetened, pure cranberry juice daily (not a supplement). It’s packed with other good stuff so an absolute win.
Of all these methods, I stand by water and cranberry juice consumption most. They are age-old treatments that work without a co-pay or flooding your body with unnecessary antibiotics. Hygiene and good habits will help you prevent urinary tract infections that are awkward, uncomfortable, and painful. You don’t need one of these…so take steps today!