If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you know it makes a very common bodily function incredibly painful. Certainly, no one likes experiencing a burning sensation whenever they have to pee.
So, what is a UTI, exactly? Well, according to Christine Greves, MD, an OB/GYN at Orlando Health, it’s an umbrella term that could mean a few things. “Urinary tract infections are the most common bacterial infections found in women, and could describe either a bladder infection, or a bladder with kidney infection,” she explains. (In doctor speak, UTIs are also known as “acute cystitis” or “pyelonephritis,” in case you ever see that on a medical chart or website.)
It’s not all that hard to get a UTI, either. “A urinary tract infection starts with the vagina having bacteria from the fecal flora, which then ascends into the urinary tract—starting in the urethra and then going up into the bladder,” says Greves. “The kidney infection occurs when those pathogens go farther up in the urinary tract, through the ureters to the kidneys.”
Lots of factors can impact how that bacteria gets into your urinary tract; some situations are riskier and some women are simply more prone to them than others. “Risk factors include having a history of urinary tract infection, recent spermicide use or recent sexual intercourse,” says Greves. “Other risk factors include pregnancy, because pregnancy can cause slowing of the urinary tract which in turn allows for growth of bacteria.”
Luckily, there are some things you can do to help reduce your risk of infection. Here, Greves shares her top UTI prevention strategies.
7 Ways to Help Reduce Your Risk of a Urinary Tract Infection
Take frequent bathroom breaks. It might be a hassle to hit the bathroom, but you should make an effort to pee at least every four hours. Greves says this practice “prevents the urine from being still, allowing bacteria to grow.” She puts it this way: “I like to think of it like a very still pond versus a flowing river. The still pond usually doesn’t appear to be as clean and fosters bacterial growth more easily.”
Pee right after having sex. Greves also says you should aim to urinate shortly after intercourse, which will “help flush out any bacteria” around the vaginal area and keep it from entering the urinary tract. Additionally, with sex, she recommends avoiding certain types of lubricants, as they tend to increase UTI risk.
Drink up. According to a recent study, women prone to UTIs who increased their fluid intake by three pints (or six cups) decreased their risk of infection. “Drink plenty of water,” says Greves, “especially after sex, to flush out the potential bacteria.”
Wipe front to back. You may think very little of how you wipe yourself after using the restroom, but it definitely matters when it comes to spreading bacteria and preventing UTIs. “After using the bathroom, it’s important to wipe front to back to prevent the fecal pathogens from contaminating the vaginal area,” says Greves.
Avoid long baths. Keeping lady parts in a wet tub, swimming with bacteria, can increase your UTI risk. “Avoid taking long baths, because the water can become contaminated which can result in pathogens entering the urethral area,” says Greves. Keep it short, or take a long shower instead.
Get out of those tight, sweaty gym clothes. “Downstairs breathability” matters when it comes to lowering your UTI risk. “Tight clothes don’t allow your private parts to breathe,” says Greves. Be sure to change out of stretch pants as soon as possible after a workout, and opt for loose, breathable fabrics when you’re lounging around the house or when you’re sleeping.
Consider using tampons instead of pads. As an additional measure, “using tampons instead of sanitary napkins can also help keep the vaginal area more dry when you are on your period,” says Greeves. Just remember to change your tampon frequently.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.