Infection of any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra, is known as a urinary tract infection (UTI), but most cases typically involve the bladder and urethra.1 A UTI can occur when bacteria enters the urethra and then bladder and propagates there. If untreated, it can spread to the ureters and kidneys. Though virtually any type of bacteria can cause a UTI, Escherichia coli (E. coli) accounts for the majority of these infections.1 Because of their anatomy, female individuals are more likely to get UTIs than male individuals. Sexual intercourse, certain types of birth control (e.g., diaphragms), and menopause are risk factors specific to those of the female sex. Other risk factors, regardless of biological sex, include urinary tract abnormalities, blockages to the urinary tract (e.g., by a kidney stone or enlarged prostate), suppressed immunity, catheter use, and recent urinary surgery. General symptoms of a UTI include a burning sensation during urination; a persistent urge to urinate; frequent urination that produces only small amounts of urine; cloudy looking, malodorous urine; urine that’s pink, red, or brownish in color; and/or pelvic pain. Symptoms can vary, person to person, and can be more severe and/or persistent, depending on the part of the urinary system that is infected. 1 If not managed, UTIs can cause a myriad of health complications, such as urinary tract abnormalities, urinary blockages, narrowing of the urethra, recurrent infections, sepsis, kidney damage, and suppression of the immune system. In some cases, these complications require medical procedures, surgeries, and/or catheter use.
Healthcare providers will usually treat UTIs with antibiotics, but there are things you can do to lessen the severity of a UTI and reduce the risk of future infections.
- Drink more fluids. Drinking more fluids, especially water, will increase urine production and frequency of urination, which helps flush out any bacteria in the bladder and urethra.1
- Consume cranberries. Cranberries contain A-type proanthocyanidin, which helps prevents harmful bacteria (e.g., E. coli) from sticking to the urethra and bladder lining. Research has demonstrated the anti- inflammatory and antioxidant benefits of consuming fresh cranberries, cranberry juice, and/or cranberry supplements.7,8 In particular, one study showed that children and adults who consumed more cranberry products were less likely to develop UTIs.
- Urinate after sexual intercourse. Urination after intercourse helps flush out any bacteria to which the urethra might have been exposed during intercourse. Drinking a glass of water soon after sex can help this process.
- Wipe front to back. In female individuals, this will help prevent E. coli in the anal area from being spread into the urethra .
- Avoid irritating menstrual and genital products. Some cleansing and menstrual products contain chemicals or fragrances that can cause irritation to the genital area, which increases risk of bacterial infection.1 Women should avoid genital sprays, douches, and scented cleansers, soaps, tampons, and pads.
- Change birth control methods. Birth control devices that are inserted into the vagina, as well as use of unlubricated or spermicide-treated condoms, can promote bacterial growth. Talk to your physician about different birth control options.1
1. Mayo Clinic Staff. Urinary tract infections (UTI). Diseases and conditions. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ urinary-tract-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20353447. Accessed 21 Nov 2020.
2. Wang CH, Fang CC, Chen NC, et al. Cranberry-containing products for prevention of urinary tract infections in susceptible populations: a systematic review and meta- analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(13):988–996.
3. Beerepoot MA, Geerlings SE, vanHaarst EP, et al. Nonantibiotic prophylaxis for recurrent urinary tract infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Urol. 2013;190(6):1981–1989.
4. Salo J, Uhari M, Helminen M, et al. Cranberry juice for the prevention of recurrences of urinary tract infections in children: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Clin Infect Dis. 2012;54(3):340–346.
5. Di Martino P, Agniel R, David K, et al. Reduction of Escherichia coli adherence to uroepithelial bladder cells after consumption of cranberry juice: a double-blind randomized placebo- controlled cross-over trial. World J Urol. 2006;24(1):21–27.
6. Gupta K, Chou MY, Howell A, et al. Cranberry products inhibit adherence of p-fimbriated Escherichia coli to primary cultured bladder and vaginal epithelial cells. J Urol. 2007;177(6):2357– 2360.
7. McKay DL, Chen CY, Zampariello CA, Blumberg JB. Flavonoids and phenolic acids from cranberry juice are bioavailable and bioactive in healthy older adults. Food Chem. 2015;168:233– 240.
8. Fu Z, Liska D, Talan D, Chung M. Cranberry reduces the risk of urinary tract infection recurrence in otherwise healthy women: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Nutr. 2017;147(12):2282–2288.