How to Prevent and Treat UTIs

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(Photo: iStock)

As women, it’s not enough that we have to deal with the misery of PMS and periods each month; on top of that, our chances of getting urinary tract infections are high. UTI's affect about 8 million people each year in the U.S., and approximately half of all women will experience them at some point in their lives, with many women having repeat infections for years.

What causes them?
“UTI's are caused by bacteria that enter the body though the urethra - the tube that carries urine from your bladder to the outside - and travel upwards to eventually colonize your bladder,” explains Internal Medicine Physician Jessica Prest of Skyline Medical Group in Nashville, TN. And unfortunately, women are especially prone to UTIs because they have shorter urethras. Additionally, sex puts women at higher risk of developing infection. “UTI's most commonly occur in sexually active women and women using spermicides,” Prest adds.

What is the best way to treat them?
Prest says that the best way to treat UTI's is with antimicrobial therapy or antibiotics. “It is also important to stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids as this flushes bacteria out of your bladder,” she emphasizes.

However, antibiotic overuse and resistance can become a big problem, so many doctors promote the use of effective preventative measures. 

What preventative measures can you take?
Cranberry juice has long been a go-to when it comes to preventing these sorts of infections. Recent investigations show that cranberries or cranberry juice may actually work because they contain proanthocyanidins, which are antioxidant “flavonoids” like those found in blueberries, grape seeds and chocolate, which also prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall.

But Prest says the hype around the juice is unwarranted. “Cranberry juice can help with overall urinary health; however, it doesn't help prevent urinary tract infections,” she says. “The best means of defense against UTIs is hydration, urinating after sexual intercourse and discontinued use of spermicides.”

Many people take cranberry supplements to to support urinary health, which can be beneficial, but researchers say it’s important to choose the right products. There are a lot of cranberry pills on the market today that contain too little of the key bacteria fighting ingredient to have any sort of effect. Research shows that to prevent recurrent UTI's, cranberry products need to contain a dose of at least 36 milligrams of proanthocyanidins per day.