Half of all women will experience a urinary tract infection at some point, but you can take steps to help avoid them.
Feel like you always need to pee? Is it painful when you do? You could have a urinary tract infection (UTI), the world’s most common bacterial infection.1
If left untreated, a UTI could lead to a serious kidney infection, so it makes sense to learn how to avoid them.
What is a UTI?
A UTI is an infection in your urinary system: the urethra, bladder and kidneys.2 Cystitis is a very common form of UTI – between one and two women out of every five will get cystitis at some point in their lives.3
Symptoms of a UTI/cystitis include:4
• pain, burning or stinging when you pee
• feeling like you urgently need to pee
• cloudy, dark or strong-smelling urine
• pain low down in your stomach and/or backache
• blood in your pee, although this is quite rare
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What causes a UTI?
A urinary tract infection is caused by bacteria – most often from your bowel – travelling up the urethra into the bladder. This is why women tend to get more UTIs than men; the urethra is not only shorter, but the anus is much closer to the entrance of the urethra too.5
Your GP can give you antibiotics to clear up the infection, but if you keep getting UTIs – 53% of women over 55 and 36% of younger women will get another UTI within one year6 – you may be referred to a specialist to find out why.
How you can avoid a UTI
If you want to avoid repeated courses of antibiotics, or simply take better care of your health, follow these seven steps to help prevent a UTI.
1. Wipe from front to back
It sounds obvious, but this is one of the easiest ways to stop bacteria being transferred from your anus to your urethra.7 So every time you pee, make sure you wipe from front to back.
Teach your kids to wipe this way too. Children can also suffer from cystitis, which may cause them to wet the bed and feel very ill.8 Take them to a doctor as soon as you suspect they’ve got a UTI.
2. Pee after sex
While it may not be particularly romantic, peeing within 15 minutes of having sex can help wash away any bacteria. If you can, give yourself a quick wash before and after sex too.9
If you suffer from recurrent UTIs, also encourage your partner to wash. It may be a mood-killer, but so is suffering from cystitis for months on end…
3. Rethink your underwear
Big fan of thongs? They could be triggering your UTIs. While there’s no evidence to prove that G-strings can cause infections like cystitis, experts agree that thongs make it much easier for harmful bacteria to travel from back to front, triggering UTI symptoms.10
We should all be wearing cotton underwear too. Synthetic fibres don’t allow your skin to breathe properly,11 trapping moisture and encouraging bacteria to grow.
4. Ditch the bubble baths
Bubble baths can be bad news for UTIs – sitting in a bath brings your genitals into contact with any chemicals in perfumed bubble bath or bath salts for longer than they would do in a shower.12
Stick to having showers, and use unperfumed soaps and shower gels instead. Avoid applying talcum powder afterwards too, as this can also cause irritation.13
5. Cut down on sugar
If you’re thinking about cutting out the white stuff, add ‘may help prevent UTIs’ to the list of reasons to quit. Sugar is known to encourage the growth of bacteria,14 so a high-sugar diet could make you more susceptible to cystitis.
Try to limit the amount of sugary foods you eat, such as biscuits, cake and sweets, but also keep an eye on any food labels to spot hidden sugars in everyday foods. For example, many low-fat foods contain a lot of sugar15 to help maintain flavour.
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6. Avoid caffeinated drinks
Reducing your intake of tea, coffee, cola, and energy drinks can help for several reasons. One study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2013 found that caffeinated drinks increased the need to pee and led to worse symptoms in women with UTIs.16
Tea and coffee are also diuretics, which make you pee more often, and can irritate the bladder.17 Switch to drinking more water – it can help dilute urine and flush out any bacteria – or green tea. In 2007, researchers from University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences discovered that green tea can protect bladder cells from inflammation.17
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Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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1. Foxman B. Epidemiology of urinary tract infections: incidence, morbidity, and economic costs. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12113866
2. NHS Choices. Urinary tract infections. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-tract-infections-utis/
3. Bladder Health UK. Bacterial cystitis. Available from: http://www.bladderhealthuk.org/bladder-conditions/cystitis/bacterial-cystitis
4. NHS Choices. Cystitis – symptoms. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cystitis/symptoms/
5. NHS Choices. Cystitis – overview. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cystitis/
6. Dr Vicky Morris. Recurrent urinary tract infections. Available from: https://www.bjfm.co.uk/recurrent-urinary-tract-infections
7. As Source 5
8. As Source 2
9. Bladder Health UK. BC treatments. Available from: http://www.bladderhealthuk.org/bladder-conditions/cystitis/bc-treatments/preventative-measures
10. As Source 3
11. As Source 5
12. As Source 5
13. Brook. Your life – cystitis. Available from: https://www.brook.org.uk/your-life/cystitis
14. Bladder Health UK. BC diet & nutrition. Available from: http://www.bladderhealthuk.org/bladder-conditions/cystitis/bc-diet–nutrition
15. British Heart Foundation. Surprisingly sugary foods. Available from: https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/sugar-salt-and-fat/surprisingly-sugary-foods
16. Maserejian NN, et al. Intake of caffeinated, carbonated, or citrus beverage types and development of lower urinary tract symptoms in men and women. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23722012
17. Science Daily. Green Tea May Protect Bladder From Becoming Inflamed. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070520140907.htm