We’ve all heard the term “UTI,” but until you actually get one, most people have no idea what the hell that even is. “UTI” stands for urinary tract infection, and it’s basically what happens when bacteria declares war on your urethra and your bladder. UTIs can spring up seemingly out of nowhere and cause pain, burning, and constant abdominal discomfort.
The symptoms are so obnoxious, you might actually think you caught a sexually transmitted infection, and that’s why it’s important to know how to identify, treat, and prevent UTIs. Berry reached out to Barb DuPree, MD, gynecologist and author of Yes You Can: Dr. Barb’s Recipe for Lifelong Intimacy, to get her take on the things every woman should know in order to keep herself healthy.
Here, Dr. DuPree’s answers to some of your most ~*burning*~ questions about UTIs.
1. How do I even get a UTI?
A UTI occurs when bacteria gets into the urethra and causes an infection. “The most common cause of a UTI is E. coli, a bacteria that is found in the GI tract normally,” Dr. DuPree explains. “But there are other causes as well… Women are uniquely at risk for UTIs because of their short urethras, which span the distance between the outside skin—where bacteria reside—to inside of the bladder.” UTIs are also incredibly common. According to Dr. DuPree, 1 in 2 women will develop a UTI at some point in their lives.
2. How do I know if I have a UTI?
When you have a UTI, the first thing you’ll notice is an insanely uncomfortable burning sensation. “The most common symptom associated with a UTI is pain with urination,” Dr. DuPree says. Other symptoms include urinating frequently but only in small amounts, lower abdominal pain, blood in the urine, or pain and pressure in the pelvis. In some rare instances, you might also get a fever as your body tries to fight the infection.
3. Are there any ways to prevent a UTI?
Some women are just more prone to UTIs than others, but Dr. DuPree says there are a few standard preventative actions you can take to avoid getting an infection. Staying hydrated is very important, as is emptying your bladder at least every 4 hours. She also recommends going pee right after you have sex, always wiping front to back, and taking showers instead of prolonged baths.
4. How do I get rid of a UTI?
If you think you have a UTI, but you’ve never really had one before and you’re feeling unsure, Dr. DuPree says it’s important to get yourself to a doctor. You’ll most likely get an antibiotic that will help you fight the infection. But, if UTIs are a common occurrence for you, you might not need to get checked out every time. “For those women who have frequent recurrences it may not be necessary to go through that evaluation on each episode,” Dr. DuPree notes. “For many women, they will have the same bacteria with each episode of infection. The overuse of antibiotics is not a good thing, so we don’t want to put women on a course of antibiotics if it isn’t really necessary.”
5. Are there any natural remedies I can take for a UTI?
You might have heard that you can treat UTIs with over-the-counter products like AZO tablets or by drinking a lot of cranberry juice. Unfortunately, those things probably won’t do much to help. “There is no proof that cranberry juice helps prevent UTIs,” Dr. DuPree says. “The juice can add a lot of sugar to your diet. I recommend they do cranberry extracts in capsules or tablets.” She also cautions that while AZO may help reduce the pain of a UTI, it won’t kill the bacteria causing the infection, so don’t put off calling a doctor.
6. Can I get a UTI from having sex?
For some women, sex unfortunately causes frequent UTIs, and the risk can be higher depending on what kinds of contraception you use. “Using a diaphragm for birth control seems to increase the chance of developing a UTI, and also using foam or jelly spermicides,” Dr. DuPree explains. Peeing right after sex can help prevent UTIs, since it “eliminates bacteria from the bladder before it has a chance to multiply.” Dr. DuPree says women who are prone to frequent UTIs can also take a single dose of antibiotic when they have sex, but that’s obviously only in extreme cases.
7. Are UTIs dangerous?
Most women aren’t in immediate danger from getting a UTI, but they can be serious if they’re left untreated. “A simple UTI can quickly become a kidney infection, leading to sepsis and significant health complications,” Dr. DuPree says. “If it is truly an infection, the only treatment is the proper antibiotic.”