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Health

UTIs 101: a guide to urinary tract infections

By Maya Khamala

If you’ve never had a urinary tract infection (UTI), count yourself extremely fortunate. Personally, my twenties were marred by the burning pain of UTIs until I learned more about how to avoid them successfully. Although these horribly distracting infections can affect any body, women are more prone (because we just can’t catch a freakin’ break). Just kidding. Self-knowledge is power, y’all.

What exactly is a UTI and how do you get one? 

The female urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the bladder), is shorter than its male counterpart, which makes it easier for bacteria to enter and multiply. Women are 10 times more likely than men to get a urinary tract infection, and one in five women will have a UTI at some point. UTIs can spread to other parts of your urinary tract, including your bladder, ureters, and kidneys.

Signs and Symptoms

The classic symptoms of a UTI are the urgent, frequent need to pee without much (if any) urine coming out, burning (hellfire) when you pee, and no change to your discharge. Some people will experience pain in the form of lower abdominal cramping, lower back pain, and pelvic pain. A UTI can also make your urine cloudy, strong-smelling, or even a different color (like red, pink, or brownish due to blood).

Some people might not exhibit any symptoms at all, and in other cases, these symptoms can mean something else entirely -- most likely Painful Bladder Syndrome, AKA Interstital Cystitis. This range of symptom expression can make diagnosis difficult. The only way to be sure is with the appropriate urine sample testing; if a UTI is suspected, head to your doctor. 

Treatment 

While it can be tempting to want treat things naturally, UTIs need medical intervention with antibitoics to be treated. (That old wives' tale of cranberry juice has since been disproven multiple times over.)

If your symptoms do respond to home remedies, the good news is that you probably weren't infected. But they it get really bad, you could end up with a kidney infection, which is potentially dangerous.

So, even though antibiotics might cause a yeast infection in place of your UTI, you it's the lesser of two evils- and then you can focus on stellar prevention moving forward.

Ok, so now that we’re all clear on what needs avoiding, here are 7 recommendations for how to avoid getting a UTI in the first place.

1. Pee after sex 

Penetrative sex can push bacteria up around your urethra, so it has been a long-held belief that peeing afterward could help flush it out, and keep potentially harmful bacteria from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract, thereby lowering your risk of a UTI. However, this has been disproven by more than one study.

If it makes you feel better to flush things out, have at it! But there's no need to hurry away from your partner to second the action stops. Enjoy that post-O glow before you bolt to the bathroom.

2. Drink a lot of water 

Staying well-hydrated at all times is a good idea. When you fill your bladder, your pee is more forceful and more frequent; one study found that low urine output was associated with an increased risk of UTIs. Another study found that an increase in fluid intake can lead to a decrease in UTI frequency.

On average, female bodies need 11.5 cups of fluids per day for optimal health. Most important thing here is to listen to your body’s cues. The color of your urine gives you valuable info about your health, for example: if you notice your pee is amber, brown, or orange, you’re likely dehydrated!

3. Don't hold your pee in 

It’s a busy life, I get it. But when nature calls, heed your nature, damnit. When urine stays in your bladder for too long, it gives bacteria a golden opportunity to flourish and potentially cause infection. While most people can hold their pee in for three to six hours (depending how much they drink), the reality is that holding your pee in puts you at a greater risk of developing a UTI.

4. Wipe from front to back 

The opening of your urethra is pretty up close and personal with your anus, and the gastrointestinal bacteria found there can migrate from one home to another fairly easily. In other words, if you wipe from back to front (even while avoiding your butt altogether), that bacteria can be transported to your urethra, where it might cause an infection.

Same logic when it comes to anal play, or anal sex: don’t allow your partner to put anything that was just in your ass into your vagina without washing first. Respect the poetry of it all.

5. Probiotic

Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms available in supplement form or can be found in fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, and probiotic yogurt. The use of probiotics has been connected to everything from improved digestion, to a stronger immune system, to a decreased risk of UTIs. And if you do end up having to take antibiotics to treat a UTI, taking probiotics can help restore gut bacteria afterward, which are crucial to your overall health and well-being.

6. Natural hygiene

Scented powders, douches, and certain menstrual pads can irritate your urethra, increasing your susceptibility to a UTI. Avoid douching altogether, as it can throw off your vagina’s pH, which makes you more susceptible to infections more generally. Your vagina self-cleanses by regularly expelling discharge, so contrary to what some say, it really doesn’t need flower-scented help on this one. And your vulva should be good with water, plain and simple, or, a mild, fragrance-free cleanser.

7. Your safe sex strategy

Spermicide-treated condoms can irritate your vagina and increase the likelihood of big bad bacteria taking up residence in your urethra. And diaphragms might also increase your UTI risk—while they aren’t that popular anymore, a new version did cause a fuss in 2015, so this may still be relevant to keep in mind! Specifically, the ring of a diaphragm can put internal pressure on your urethra and even partly block it, making it harder to totally empty your bladder, which, as we’ve learned, allows bacteria to loiter about and possibly morph into an infection.

Bottom line

If you’re susceptible to UTIs, your first line of defense is staying well hydrated and in good health. Staying as healthy as possible by listening to your body and practicing hygiene that respects the reality of your anatomy should take care of the rest! 

/Shutterstock

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