Unfortunately, due to the design of the female genital tract, women are more likely to get urinary tract infections (UTIs) than men. And for some women it's a constant battle—especially after menopause or if they have a pre-existing condition like diabetes. This can really affect quality of life, as symptoms of a UTI can include burning pain every time you go to the bathroom, aching in your lower abdomen, feeling like you have to urinate frequently even though you just went to the bathroom, having to urinate several times during the night, lower-back aches, and feelings of nausea, fatigue, dizziness, or headaches.
If you get frequent UTIs, know that you are not alone. And even more important, know that there is something you can do about it, as there are many ways to prevent future infections.
UTIs have everything to do with bacteria.
First, it's important to understand that UTIs happen either because bacteria on the outside of the body—specifically from the rectum and vagina—find their way into the urethra or because the bladder itself becomes overpopulated with "bad" bacteria. What do I mean by "bad" bacteria? In order for your body to thrive and function, there exists an ecosystem on the lining of the internal organs, meaning there are millions of "good" bacteria and yeast that work to keep the organs clean, fight off disease, and assist the organs in their optimal functioning. Due to poor diet, stress, and overuse of antibiotics, many of these good bacteria have been flushed out and replaced by infectious bacteria—which now have the chance to overgrow and cause problems.
Here's what you can do to prevent a UTI.
So if you take in this knowledge about the bacterial balance on the internal organs, you can see that basically, preventing UTIs will include ensuring the area around the urethra stays clean and that you optimize the ecosystem inside of your body, while flushing out infectious bacteria and promoting good bacteria.
1. Wipe front to back.
Keep the urethra clean especially after a bowel movement by wiping from front to back. It might seem simple, but it can reduce your risk of getting bad bacteria in places they shouldn't be.
2. Pee after sex.
Sexual intercourse can move the bacteria in the vagina to the urethra. Urinating after sex will help flush any bacteria out.
3. Change clothes after a workout.
If you are prone to UTIs, you are best off not sitting in sweaty clothes that can promote bacterial buildup. Shower and change as soon as you can.
4. Think twice about baths.
This is a recommendation for those individuals who have UTIs very frequently. Unless you are getting in and out of the bathtub quickly, you are otherwise luxuriating in a sea of bacteria that comes from your body.
5. Avoid spermicides.
Spermicides may introduce bacteria into the vagina and can also change the pH of the vagina, allowing for bad bacteria to grow more easily.
6. Avoid douching.
Douching does help to wash away bad bacteria, but it washes out the beneficial bacteria as well.
7. Don't go too long without fluids.
The more fluids you drink, the more often you will urinate, which translates into flushing out your bladder.
8. Don't hold it.
The longer urine sits around, the more stagnant it gets, meaning those harmful bacteria have an ideal place to grow. Try to urinate every three to four hours.
9. Add probiotics.
Probiotics are foods or supplements that provide you with a dose of good bacteria, helping to fortify your internal ecosystem. You can eat fermented foods like kimchee, miso soup, kefir, or sauerkraut or take a probiotic supplement.
10. Consider estrogen.
For those postmenopausal women who get frequent UTIs, it may be that the low estrogen levels are causing thinning of the lining in the bladder while also enabling "bad" bacteria to grow. Estrogen normally enables healthy bacteria to thrive, so check with your doctor to see if you might be a good candidate for estrogen cream.
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Dr. Eva Selhub is an expert in the fields of stress, resilience and mind-body medicine. She studied medicine at Boston University and is board certified in Internal Medicine. She has been a lecturer in medicine at Harvard Medical School, a clinical associate at Massachusetts General Hospital, and was medical director and senior physician at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital. She now runs a private practice as a comprehensive medical specialist and transformation consultant and is the author of Your Health Destiny: How to Unlock Your Natural Ability to Overcome Illness, Feel Better, and Live Longer.