Preventing UTIs and Avoiding Reinfection

By OBOS Common Medical Conditions Contributors | October 15, 2011

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common in women. The following tips can help you avoid getting a UTI and prevent recurrences.

Drink lots of fluids every day. Try to drink a glass of water every two or three hours. For an active infection, drink enough so you can pour out a good stream of urine every hour.

Urinate frequently and try to empty your bladder completely each time. Never try to hold your urine once your bladder feels full.

Keep yourself clean. Wipe from front to back after urinating or having a bowel movement to keep the bacteria in your bowels and anus away from your urethra. Wash your genitals from front to back with plain water or very mild soap at least once a day.

Wash before sex. Wash your hands and genitals before sex and after contact with the anal area (especially before touching the vagina or urethra). That goes for your partner(s), too.

Prevent irritation. Any sexual activity that irritates the urethra, puts pressure on the bladder, or spreads bacteria from the anus to the vagina or urethra can contribute to cystitis. To prevent irritation, avoid pressure on the urethral area or prolonged direct clitoral stimulation during sex or masturbation.

Make sure your vagina is well lubricated before penetration of any kind. Rear-entry positions and prolonged vigorous intercourse tend to put additional stress on the urethra and bladder. Emptying your bladder before and immediately after sex is a good idea.

If you tend to get cystitis after sex despite these precautions, you may want to ask your medical practitioner for preventive drugs (sulfa, ampicillin, nitrofurantoin); a single tablet after sex can prevent infections and usually doesn’t have the same negative effects as taking antibiotics for a longer time.

Try changing your birth control. Women taking oral contraceptives have a higher rate of cystitis than those who don’t take them. Some diaphragm users find that the rim pressing against the urethra can contribute to infection. (A different-size diaphragm or one with a different rim may solve this problem.) Contraceptive foams or vaginal suppositories may irritate the urethra. Condoms that are not lubricated may put pressure on the urethra, or the dyes or lubricants may cause irritation.

Change menstrual pads often. The blood on the pad provides a bridge for bacteria from your anus to your urethra. Some women also find that tampons or sponges put pressure on the urethra.

Wear loose clothing. Tight jeans may cause trauma to the urethra, as may some physical activities such as bicycling or horseback riding.

Avoid or reduce caffeine and alcohol. Both can irritate the bladder. If you drink either, be sure to drink enough water to dilute them.

Acidify your urine. Some women find that unsweetened cranberry juice, a cranberry concentrate supplement, or vitamin C every day makes urine more acidic and helps prevent UTIs. The hippuric acid in cranberry juice may help prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder lining (mucosa).

If you have an infection, try combining 500 mg of vitamin C with cranberry juice four times a day, or eat half a cup of fresh cranberries in plain, live-culture yogurt instead. Whole grains, meats, nuts, and many fruits also help to acidify the urine. Avoid strong spices such as curry, cayenne, chili, and black pepper.

Avoid refined (white) sugars and starches. White flour, white rice, and ordinary pasta may facilitate urinary tract infections by feeding bacteria.

Try certain vitamins or herbal remedies. Vitamin B6 and magnesium/calcium supplements may help to relieve spasm of the urethra that can predispose you to cystitis. Drinking teas made of uva ursi, horsetail or shavegrass,­ barberry, echinacea, cornsilk, cleavers, lemon balm, or goldenseal may be beneficial to the bladder. Consult an herbalist to learn more about their specific properties and the correct doses.

Keep up your resistance. Eat well, get more rest, and find ways to reduce stress as much as possible.