UTI! Things You Need To Know To Prevent Recurrence

Medically reviewed by John A. Flores M.D., M.S. April 25, 2024| Written by Zenda Nel

UTI! Things You Need To Know To Prevent Recurrence

Though urinary tract infections (UTIs) are not life-threatening, they account for nearly 25% of all infections in women. They are more common among women and older people. Roughly 10 in 25 women, but only 3 in 25 men suffer from UTI symptoms during their lifetime.

There is a reason why UTIs are prevalent among women. Firstly, the female urethra is shorter than a man's, so bacteria have a shorter distance to the bladder. Secondly, the urethral opening is close to the anus and vagina - both potentially inconvenient sources of bacteria.

Since all sorts of bodily fluids get moved around during intercourse, this may also involve bacteria that find their way to the female urethral opening. That said, a UTI can happen anywhere along the urinary system. But before we move further, let’s take a brief look at what encompasses the urinary system:

The Urinary System

The urinary system comprises the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The kidneys filter blood and remove waste products and water in urine. Each kidney is connected to the bladder by a tube called a ureter. The urine leaves the kidneys via the ureters and flows into the bladder.

When the bladder is full, a person experiences an urge to empty the bladder. The urine then leaves the bladder through a tube called the urethra.

Most UTIs only involve the urethra and bladder in the lower tract. However, in rare cases, ureter and kidney UTIs affect the upper urinary tract. Such infections are usually more severe.

Signs and Symptoms

A urinary tract infection has distinct symptoms you won't easily miss. The most noticeable ones all relate to urinating:

  • A burning feeling when you urinate
  • A frequent need to urinate, but often with very little to show for your efforts
  • Murky, dark, bloody, or offensive-smelling urine

Other symptoms include:

  • Pain or pressure in the back or lower abdomen
  • Feeling exhausted or shaky
  • Fever or chills
  • Rectal pain or pain in the penis (men)
  • Pelvic pain (women)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Mental changes or confusion

What does UTI pain feel like?

Unitary tract infection is irritating and can be painful. You frequently get an urgent urge to wee; when you do, very little comes, and there is a burning sensation. You may also experience pain in your side or lower back.

Types of urinary tract infections

Physicians differentiate between different UTIs based on the infected area.

  • Cystitis or bladder infection is the most common lower urinary tract infection. Typically, you can experience pelvic pressure or pain, frequent painful urination, and blood in the urine.
  • Urethritis or infection of the urethra has all the general symptoms of UTI. But infected women also experience unusual vaginal discharge.
  • Pyelonephritis,or infection of the kidneys, is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Apart from general UTI symptoms, pyelonephritis also involves:
    • Chills
    • Fever
    • Lower abdominal pain
    • Pain in the back
    • The urge to vomit
  • Vaginitis or infection of the vagina may involve some of the following symptoms:
    • Painful or itchy vagina
    • Sore, swollen, or cracked skin in the general area of the vagina
    • Slight vaginal bleeding
    • Vaginal discharge that differs in some way from the usual discharge
    • Vaginal dryness
    • Pain when urinating or having sex

What is the leading cause of UTI?

Bacterial infections are the primary cause of UTIs, especially E. coli bacteria in the bowel. Still, fungi can also occasionally infect the urinary tract.

A UTI infection happens when bacteria or fungi enter the urinary tract. So, the real question is, how do the bacteria get there?

It’s just that the urethra is extremely close to the anus, which is not exactly a pristine environment. Bacteria from your large intestine exit through the anus, and from there, they can land in the nearby urethra. Once in the urethra, it’s a short distance to the bladder where infection can start.

One activity that can cause bacteria to travel from the anus to the urethra is sex.

Lifestyle Habits that are Risk Factors for Urinary Tract Infections

1. Unsanitary Sex

Having sex increases the risk of getting a UTI. During sex, the movements of the body and limbs can cause the bacteria on the skin and around the rectum to enter the urinary tract, which can start an infection.

Although a UTI can technically be the result of sexual intercourse, it is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). In other words, it's not a condition that someone has and then passes onto a partner during intercourse.

To avoid getting a UTI, don't avoid having sex! Take these steps instead:

  • Make sure you urinate within 30 minutes before and after the act
  • Wash up afterward
  • Use simple products, no fancy stuff that you squirt up your vagina – not advisable.

2. Douching

Douching is the act of cleaning the vagina out with a mixture of water, and other ingredients squirted up the vagina with the use of a bottle or bag. The mixture is then allowed to flow freely out of the vagina.

Women indulge in douching to rid their vaginas of perceived unpleasant odors, wash away menstrual blood after a period, prevent pregnancy, avoid a sexually transmitted infection, or wash away semen after sex.

In the United States, almost one in five women between 15 and 44 years old douche. However, douching is an unhealthy practice as it disturbs the natural environment of the vagina - which is naturally a bit acidic. This acidic environment protects the vagina from infections. So, it’s best to avoid douching.

3. Not Relieving Yourself on Time

We have all been in situations where we couldn't get to the toilet in time and had to hold our urine longer than expected. If this happens once in a while, it's not a problem, but if you regularly keep your urine for too long, you may end up with a UTI. Holding urine in the bladder can cause bacteria to multiply.

Research has found that regularly delaying urination is associated with UTI. In the same study, the most common reason for habitually holding in urine was the poor sanitary condition of public toilets.

4. Wiping in the wrong direction

During childhood, mothers teach their little girls to wipe from the front to the back after finishing business in the toilet. There’s a reason: our backsides are teaming with germs and bacteria. Wiping yourself safely from the front to the back removes everything from the urethra.

One research study of premenopausal women who suffered from recurring urinary tract infections highlighted washing genitals from back to front as one of the behaviors that increased UTI.

5. Being Diabetic

Diabetes tends to compromise the innate immune system, increasing susceptibility to regular infections, including UTIs caused by E. coli bacteria. Individuals with type 2 diabetes have a higher incidence rate of UTIs at roughly 46.9 per 1,000 diabetic patients, compared to 29.9 per 1,000 individuals without diabetes.

See Related Article:Ways to Reduce Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Scientists in Sweden have now shown that people with diabetes are more at risk of UTI. It’s because antimicrobial peptides play a crucial role in the innate immune system, combating many microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses. Since diabetic patients have lower levels of psoriasin, this increases the risk of UTI.

6. Forgetting to Relieve Yourself After Sex - In case You’re a Woman

While there’s not enough data available to support this claim, experts suggest that if a woman urinates after sex, it may help to flush any bacteria away from the urethra.

Urinating after sex is not as crucial for men as they have a longer urethra. And so, the bacteria from the genitals don't reach the bladder so fast.

The optimal timing for a visit to the toilet seems to be within 30 minutes after the deed. As a rule of thumb, the sooner, the better. But if you don't feel the need to go, a good idea is to drink some water to generate a decent urine flow.

7. Dehydration

Drinking enough fluids may help to prevent infection of the bladder. A study that appeared in JAMA Internal Medicine in October 2018 looked at women who experienced several incidences of cystitis in one year and drank less than 1.5 liters of fluids daily.

The study divided the women into two groups: one continued to consume their usual amount of liquids, and the other drank an additional 1.5 liters of water daily.

The scientists found that women who drank the additional 1.5 liters of water had 50% fewer incidents of recurrent cystitis and required fewer antibiotics than those who didn't drink extra liquids. Drinking enough fluids, especially water, can help to decrease the chances of developing an infection.

8. Choosing Trendy Underwear Over Comfortable

While wearing a skimpy strip of something down there may feel sexy, it's not the best choice from a hygienic standpoint. Underwear like thongs and high-cut nothings tend to get stuck in the crack, an area rife with moisture and tiny things that live in moist environments.

In other words, tight underwear may look fashionable, but it creates a short route for bacteria to move from the front to the back and back to the front. So, it's best to choose breathable cotton garments that don’t trap heat and moisture.

9. Constipation and diarrhea

When you are constipated, it's challenging to expel intestinal toxins. Constipation creates an ideal opportunity for bacteria to multiply and cause UTIs.

On the other hand, diarrhea, also called loose stools, creates an ideal opportunity for UTI to develop as there are plenty of bacteria around. If you don't clean yourself properly, some of the bacteria can stay in the vicinity of the vagina and urethra, increasing the chances of UTI.

10. Reconsider Your Birth Control Method

Certain birth control methods, including diaphragms, spermicidal jelly, and unlubricated condoms, can make a woman more susceptible to UTIs.

Diaphragms can increase pressure on your bladder, making it hard to empty. And so, they may end up increasing bacteria growth.

Research has found a strong association between unlubricated condom use and the risk of first urinary tract infection. Lubrication of the condom neutralized the irritation of the urinary tract.

11. Avoid Scented Feminine Hygiene Products

You may want to pamper yourself with some feminine products that smell great. However, scented products like liners, wipes, tampons or pads, douches, powders, and deodorant sprays contain chemicals that can affect the natural pH level balance of the vagina. These products can create the ideal environment for the increase of harmful bacteria.

How do you get rid of UTI?

1. Drink Some Cranberry Juice

Most women know that cranberry juice helps with bladder infections and UTIs. Scientists have also looked into the matter, but no clear conclusion exists. It seems that the ultra-sour berry helps some people but not everyone.

It seems the chemicals in cranberries can keep bacteria from sticking to the cells in the urinary tract, which may help to prevent UTIs. However, cranberries don't remove bacteria on the walls, so they can't help treat UTIs.

2. Drink Plenty of Water

If you have a urinary tract infection, it's advisable to drink six to eight glasses (i.e., 1.5 to 2 liters) of water every day to help flush out the infection. You can add other liquids as well. Keep the regime up until your urine is clear and you produce a strong urine stream.

Drinking six glasses of water every day will help flush the bacteria causing the infection. Research supports drinking more water to combat recurring UTIs.

3. Increase Your Vitamin C Intake

Vitamin C is known to strengthen the immune system. It has been studied extensively for its effectiveness in combating infections. A total of 148 animal studies indicated that vitamin C may alleviate or prevent infections caused by bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.

Scientists initially thought vitamin C could prevent recurring UTIs by making the urine very acidic. Still, studies have not provided conclusive evidence to support this claim.

Regularly taking vitamin C will support your immune system, but it doesn’t seem to provide added protection against UTIs. If you take vitamin C, take it in a buffered form since it is less acidic.

4. Consider Taking Probiotics

Probiotics are known to support digestive health, and scientists think they have a lot of promise in treating UTIs.

Research has focused on oral and vaginally administered probiotics as well as different strains of probiotics. One study found that taking either vaginal probiotics or a combination of oral and vaginal probiotics before symptoms appear can help prevent UTIs from recurring.

Although probiotics are safe to take, many strains produce different effects. So, it's best to consult your physician before taking any probiotics.

How Quickly Will UTI Clear Up?

While some UTIs can go away independently, most will resolve only with proper treatment.

With treatment, symptoms should disappear within 24 to 48 hours. However, suppose you have developed a kidney infection. In that case, it is more serious, and the symptoms can take up to a week to go away.

The Role of Lifestyle

Urinary tract infections can occur as a result of bacteria finding their way from other parts of the body to the urinary tract during sex or as a result of poor hygiene and wearing underwear that is too tight or flimsy.

Certain habits can also increase the risk of contracting a UTI. These include

  • Holding your urine for too long
  • Not urinating after sex
  • Wiping in the wrong direction
  • Not drinking enough water

Avoiding these bad habits can go a long way to protecting yourself against UTIs.

How Can Diet Help with UTIs?

While it is always prudent to follow a healthy, balanced diet, no specific dietary recommendations will prevent urinary tract infections or treat the condition.

Research studies suggest that vegetarian diets may protect against UTIs. The primary type of bacteria that can cause UTIs is extra-intestinal pathogenic E. coli (ExPEC), which causes about 65-75% of UTIs. ExPECs have specific factors that make them more harmful than other non-ExPEC strains. Meat, poultry, and pork can be sources of ExPEC strains.

Your diet can affect your body in many ways, from weight to hair growth to bladder health. So, it’s no surprise that UTIs can be affected by the foods you eat.

The pH of urine may be a factor in UTIs. Since diet directly affects urine pH, it may be possible to affect the urine pH through what we eat.

To this end, some online sources suggest foods and beverages high in antioxidants, such as cranberries, blueberries, oranges, dark chocolate, unsweetened probiotic yogurt, tomatoes, broccoli, and spinach may be helpful. Decaf coffee, black and green tea, cranberry, blueberry, or pomegranate juices are good drink choices. However, scientific research does not support any evidence that urine acidity may prevent UTIs.


Urinary tract infections are common, more so among women than men. These are also prevalent among older people. It is not a serious condition and clears up after a few days of treatment. Most UTIs are lower urinary tract infections involving the urethra and bladder.

Upper urinary tract infections involve the kidneys and require medical attention. You can protect yourself against annoying urinary tract infections by following hygienic personal habits.