Urinary tract infections happen when bacteria grow in part of your urinary system, and are extremely common: every year, up to 10 million people visit the doctor for UTI symptoms.
Anyone can get a UTI, but women are at higher risk because women’s urethras are shorter, making it easier for bacteria to travel to the urinary tract.
UTIs can be uncomfortable, causing pelvic pain, a constant urge to urinate, pain while urinating, and cloudy or bloody urine.
These infections usually aren’t serious, but if left untreated, they can spread to the kidneys and cause more serious issues. If you think you may have a UTI, it’s important to seek medical care. A doctor can determine whether it’s best to treat your infection with antibiotics or explain how to get rid of a UTI at home.
What Is A Urinary Tract Infection?
The urinary tract includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is an infection occurring in any part of the urinary tract.
A UTI can happen in any part of the urinary tract, but bladder infection and urethral infection are the two most common types. The bacterial infection causes inflammation in those areas, leading to the classic symptoms of pain and irritation.
While anyone can get a UTI, they’re more common in females, occurring in 1 in 5 women at some point in their lifetimes. This is because the urethra in women is shorter and closer to the anus, which can harbor harmful bacteria.
In some cases, a urinary tract infection can spread to a person’s kidneys, which can cause serious complications. It is important to seek medical care if you suspect you might have an infection in your urinary tract. Health care providers generally treat UTIs with antibiotics, but it’s also possible to treat a mild UTI at home and take measures to prevent them.
Symptoms and Causes
Everyone has bacteria on their skin and in their genital areas and anus. When this bacteria enters the urethra, it can cause an infection. Escherichia coli, or E. coli, is one of the most common bacteria to spread in and in infect the urinary tract.
Bacteria can enter the urethra and spread in the urinary tract in a number of ways. Common causes and risk factors of UTI include:
- Bacteria spreading from the GI tract, especially in women and young children.
- Sexual intercourse
- Certain forms of birth control, such as diaphragms or spermicides
- Catheter use
- Urinary tract surgery
- Blockages in the urinary tract, such as kidney stones or an enlarged prostate
- Diseases like diabetes, which can weaken a person’s immune system and ability to fight off bacteria
If you have a urinary tract infection, you may experience any of the below symptoms:
- A constant urge to urinate
- Pain or burning during urination
- Frequently passing small amounts of urine
- Urine leakage
- Cloudy urine
- Bloody urine
- Lower abdominal pain
- Pelvic pain in women
- Penis pain in men
- Fever and chills
If a UTI spreads to your kidneys, you might experience different symptoms. Signs of a kidney infection may include:
- Fever and chills
- Middle or upper back pain, typically on one side of the back
- Nausea and vomiting
If you think your UTI may have spread to your kidney, it’s important to seek medical care right away. Kidney infections, when left untreated, can spread to the blood and cause serious health problems.
Home Remedies for UTI
A provider will likely recommend treating your UTI with antibiotics to kill the bacteria in your urinary tract. They’ll probably also provide a list of home remedies that can help treat your symptoms.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common home remedies for UTI.
Drinking plenty of fluids
Drinking lots of water is one of the best home treatments for UTI. Dehydration is itself a risk factor for developing a UTI, and regular urination can help remove bacteria from the urinary tract, which can help prevent infection.
In fact, studies show people who increase their water intake from less than 1.5 daily liters to 2.2 liters a day experience fewer UTIs.
It’s commonly recommended to drink around 64 ounces of water daily, but everyone’s hydration needs are different. As a general rule, drink water throughout the day and whenever you feel thirsty.
When you are well-hydrated, your urine is typically clear or straw colored. You should also avoid caffeinated or alcoholic drinks when you have a UTI or want to prevent one.
Drinking cranberry juice
There’s some evidence that cranberry, which contains a chemical compound that can prevent bacteria from adhering to the lining of the urinary tract, can also reduce the risk of a urinary tract infection. Some studies also suggest patients with recurring UTIs should drink cranberry juice or take cranberry extract for prevention.
How much cranberry juice do you need to help a UTI?
The general recommendation for women with recurring UTIs is one eight-ounce serving every day. Check the label to ensure the juice contains real cranberry juice, and look for juice that is lower in sugar. Your healthcare provider can help you pinpoint how much cranberry juice to drink as a home remedy for UTI.
Up your vitamin C intake
There’s some scientific evidence that increasing your vitamin C intake can help your body fight off infections, including those in the urinary tract. That’s because vitamin C can increase urine acidity, giving it antibacterial capabilities.
In one study, pregnant women who took 100 mg of vitamin C had less than half the risk of developing a UTI than the control group.
If you want to use vitamin C to treat or prevent a UTI, talk to your provider, who can help you decide how much to supplement. Another way to increase vitamin C intake is by eating foods that are rich in the vitamin, like red peppers, kiwi, and citrus fruits.
If you have a current UTI, citrus fruit and juice may irritate your bladder, so be sure to monitor your symptoms if you decide to up your vitamin C intake.
Introduce healthy bacteria
Multiple studies show taking a probiotic supplement, which introduces healthy bacteria to your gut, can help the body stave off infection. Other research suggests specific types of probiotics, especially Lactobacillus, can help reduce the risk of UTIs, and that taking probiotics with antibiotics could be more effective than taking antibiotics alone.
Your healthcare provider may be able to recommend the best probiotic supplement for you to take during a UTI, or to prevent a UTI. Other sources of probiotics include:
- sourdough bread
Boost your immune system
When your body is fighting off an infection, focus on behaviors that strengthen your immune system.
Rest is one of the best ways to ensure your immune system can actively fight off your infection. If you feel tired, take a nap, and aim to get enough sleep at night that you wake feeling well rested. And while it can be stressful to be sick, try your best to stay relaxed – too much stress can impair immune function.
Along with proper hydration, it’s also important to maintain a nutritious diet. Focus on nourishing your body with healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains and avoiding sugar and alcohol, which can compromise your immune system.
Try natural supplements
In some cases, herbal remedies and natural supplements can help treat the symptoms of a UTI. Supplements that may work include:
- Bearberry leaf
- Cranberry extract
- Garlic extract
All of these have also been shown to prevent UTIs. If you are suffering from recurrent urinary tract infections, be sure to take supplements regularly.
Treat the pain
Depending on how severe your UTI is, you might experience painful symptoms, from pelvic tenderness to pain while urinating. Ask your provider about over-the-counter medications to help relieve the pain.
Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are generally safe to use for UTI discomfort and standard doses for most people. AZO (phenazopyridium), is a urinary tract specific pain medication that can also be helpful for managing symptoms.
Warm compresses like a hot, moist washcloth or a heating pad can be very soothing for abdominal and pelvic discomfort. Just make sure not to use too much heat or apply the heat directly to your skin so you don’t burn yourself.
A hot bath may also be comforting, but avoid using bubbles or other fragranced products in the bath, since they may cause urethral irritation.
Preventing a UTI
While some people are more at risk for UTIs than others, it’s possible to prevent urinary tract infections by adjusting your lifestyle. Some simple but effective ways to reduce your chances of an infection in your urinary tract include:
- Practicing good hygiene, including wiping from front to back after a bowel movement and changing tampons and pads frequently during menstruation
- Staying hydrated, which helps to flush bacteria from your urinary tract
- Urinating when you have the urge to go rather than holding it in
- Sitting and relaxing your pelvic floor when urinating rather than hovering
- Urinating immediately after intercourse
- Avoiding foods and drinks that can irritate the bladder, including alcohol, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, carbonated beverages, spicy foods, and citrus
- Avoiding douching, feminine deodorants, or any highly fragranced bath or shower products in the genital area
- Changing your birth control if you use a diaphragm or spermicide
- Avoiding tight clothing that traps moisture around the urethra or can rub and irritate the area
- Wearing cotton, breathable underwear
When to See a Doctor
Talk to a provider if you have any signs and symptoms of a UTI so you can get proper treatment for your infection.
Did you know you can get affordable UTI treatment with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms using our AI-driven symptom checker and, if needed, text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s board-certified, U.S.-based doctors can provide a treatment plan and prescription to resolve your symptoms as soon as possible.