Urinary tract infections (UTIs) occur when bacteria is introduced into the urinary tract. The most common symptoms associated with a urinary tract infection are a frequent urge to urinate and burning upon urination. Conventional treatment for UTIs is prescription antibiotics. Women are much more susceptible to UTIs because they have shorter urethras than men do, meaning there is less distance for the bacteria to travel to reach the urinary tract. Although there is no certain way to prevent a UTI, preventive methods can decrease your chances of developing a urinary tract infection.
Keep the genitalia clean by washing the area at least once a day using a mild soap and water or water alone. Some women find that soap irritates their genitals. For these women, avoid soap. Wash with a generous amount of water, which should be sufficient to wash away bacteria.
Do not hold your urine. The longer urine remains in the bladder, the more opportunity bacteria has to multiply. Urinate when you first feel the need to go and at a minimum, attempt to urinate every 3 hours. After urination, women should wipe with tissue from the front to the back (starting at the front toward the mons pubis and working your way toward the anus) to prevent transferring fecal matter to the urethra. Wipe from the front to the back after bowel movements as well. Start from the perineum (the area between the vagina and anus) and work your way back past the anus. Sexual intercourse and oral sex can introduce bacteria to the urethral opening. Both men and women should urinate after sexual activity to flush bacteria from the urethra. This is especially important for women to do, since they have shorter urethras.
The bacteria that causes urinary tract infections flourishes in a moist and warm environment. Underwear made from synthetic materials restricts airflow to the genitals. Natural cotton is porous and allows air to flow through the material, which helps to keep the genitals dry. Change your underwear at least once a day and launder dirty underwear in warm or hot water to kill bacteria. Avoid wearing clothing that is tight in the groin area, which will prevent air flow to the genitals.
Drink at least six 8-oz. glasses of water, clear fluids or juices a day to increase urination. Increased urination helps to keep the bladder flushed, which reduces bacteria growth in the urinary tract.
Scientific studies have concluded that the old folk remedy of drinking cranberry juice to prevent and treat urinary tract infections has merit. A study, conducted by the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, found that the chemicals called proanthocyanidins found in cranberries prevent E. coli from attaching to the cells in the urinary tract. E. coli is the bacteria most commonly responsible for urinary tract infections. Scientists are unsure of the optimal amounts of cranberry juice to drink. Further research is needed to determine optimal dosages. Until researchers come to a conclusion, the amount of cranberry juice you should drink is a guess. A reasonable suggestion is to drink 2 glasses of cranberry juice a day.
- Role of Cranberry on Bacterial Adhesion Forces and Implications for Escherichia coli–Uroepithelial Cell Attachment; Journal of Medicinal Food; J Med Food 12 (2) 2009, 259–270; Department of Chemical Engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts; Paola A. Pinzón-Arango, Yatao Liu, Terri A. Camesano; 2009