Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are common infections that can cause a variety of symptoms, including an unpleasant burning sensation when you urinate.
While UTIs are common, particularly for women, you can lower your risk of infection by practicing good urinary tract health habits.
Although maintaining good urinary tract health might not sound like the most glamorous aspect of your personal wellbeing, it’s an important part of preventing infections and making sure your urinary system functions properly.
Below, we’ve explained why it’s so important to maintain good urinary tract health. We’ve also shared 15 practical tips, tactics and habits that you can use to reduce your UTI risk and keep your urinary system as healthy as possible.
Why it’s Important to Maintain Good Urinary Tract Health
Your urinary system, which is made up of your kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra, is one of the most important parts of your body. Its job is to filter your blood and remove waste that’s produced by the breakdown of any food and liquid that you consume.
A healthy urinary system is essential for keeping you hydrated, regulating your production of key hormones and chemicals, controlling your red blood cell production and regulating your blood pressure.
Your urethra — the tube that connects your bladder to an opening just above your vaginal opening — is a common location for infections referred to as urinary tract infections, or UTIs.
These develop when bacteria or other pathogens enter into your urethra and multiply, or when urine pools up in your bladder and allows bacteria to grow.
UTIs are very common, especially for women. In fact, research shows that 50 percent to 60 percent of women experience at least one UTI at some point in their lifetime. In comparison, only around 13 percent to 14 percent of men develop a UTI.
While most UTIs are treatable using antibiotics, infections that are left untreated can spread to your kidneys and bloodstream, potentially causing severe symptoms.
Luckily, UTIs and other urinary tract issues are usually preventable. In fact, making a few small changes to your habits and lifestyle can help you to significantly reduce your risk of developing a UTI.
Tips & Habits for Maintaining Your Urinary Tract Health
Although UTIs are usually easy to treat, it’s generally better to prevent them from developing in the first place by taking few precautions than to treat them after they develop.
This is because some antibiotics used to treat UTIs can cause side effects. There are also risks associated with using antibiotics too often, including the risk of developing an antibiotic-resistant infection that’s more difficult to treat in the future.
Luckily, reducing your risk of developing a urinary tract infection or other urinary health issues is usually a relatively simple process.
Below, we’ve provided 15 tips, habits and lifestyle changes that you can use to maintain optimal urinary tract health and reduce your risk of developing a UTI:
- Keep yourself hydrated, especially with water. Consuming plenty of water and other fluids is an important part of flushing urine out of your body and preventing bacteria from multiplying in your urinary tract.
Make sure to keep yourself well hydrated throughout the day, especially with sugar-free drinks such as water. Most people need several glasses of water per day, although you may need more if you have an active lifestyle or live in a hot, humid area.
If you have a chronic health problem affecting your kidney, heart or liver, be sure to follow your healthcare provider’s recommendation on how much liquid you should be taking in a day as some of these conditions require fluid restricted diets.
- Always wipe from front to back. UTIs sometimes develop when bacteria from your rectum and other parts of your body makes its way into your urethra. This can occur when you wipe after using the toilet.
After you use the toilet, make sure to always wipe from front to back. This lowers the risk of harmful bacteria like E. coli and others from accidentally being transferred from your rectum to your vagina and urethra.
- Change pads, tampons and other hygiene products regularly. Bacteria from pads, tampons and other personal hygiene products can be a significant UTI risk during your menstrual cycle.
To keep your urinary tract as free from bacteria as possible, make sure to change pads and tampons frequently, and to clean up thoroughly, especially during your heaviest days of menstrual bleeding.
- Shower regularly, especially after exercise. Practicing good hygiene is an important part of preventing UTIs and other urinary health issues. Make sure to shower when you feel sweaty or dirty, especially after exercise or spending a long day outdoors.
- Don’t use a douche. Contrary to popular belief, your vagina is capable of keeping itself clean without the use of other products. While douching may seem like a good idea, it’s often harmful to the good bacteria that keep your vagina and urethra healthy.
If your vagina has a strong or unusual smell that you’re concerned about, douching isn’t likely to be effective. Instead, it’s better to reach out to your healthcare provider to get an expert’s diagnosis and opinion.
- Try to urinate often. Urinating is an important part of your body’s process for removing waste, making it important not to hold in your urine unnecessarily. It’s best to urinate at least once every three to four hours during the daytime.
Try to avoid holding in your urine for long periods of time. When you need to urinate, it’s best to go to the toilet as soon as possible. This may help to reduce your risk of dealing with recurring UTIs.
- When you urinate, make sure to fully empty your bladder. Holding urine inside your bladder for long periods can increase your risk of developing an infection. When you go to the toilet, make sure to fully empty your bladder.
- Urinate as soon as you can after having sex. During sex, bacteria can often make its way into your urethra. This bacteria can multiply quickly, potentially resulting in a urinary tract infection.
After you have sex, it’s important to urinate as soon as you can to flush any bacteria out from your urethra. It’s also important for your partner, whether they’re male or female, to do the same.
- If you use a diaphragm, consider changing your method of birth control. Research has found that using a diaphragm as your method of birth control may increase your risk of developing a UTI.
This is because the diaphragm can push against your urethra and make it more difficult to fully empty your bladder.
If you use a diaphragm for birth control and have gotten a urinary tract infection before, consider switching to another method. Our guide to your birth control options goes into detail on everything from the pill to the patch, ring, IUD and more.
- Avoid using spermicide. Similarly, research shows that other forms of contraception that use spermicide (e.g spermicide-coated condoms and diaphragms) are associated with an increased risk of UTIs. If you’re prone to urinary tract health issues, try to avoid using a spermicide-coated device as a contraceptive.
- Use a water-based lubricant. If you use lubricant when you have sex, make sure that it’s a water-based product. Avoid using scented lubricants, as these could change the bacterial balance in your vagina and increase your risk of developing a UTI.
- Avoid wearing wet or sweaty underwear. Wet or moist clothing can become a breeding ground for bacteria, fungi and other germs that can increase your risk of UTIs and other infections.
Avoid wearing wet, damp or sweaty clothing, especially shorts and underwear. If you’re sweaty due to exercise or as a result of the weather, try to shower and change into dry, comfortable clothing as soon as you can.
- Try to wear loose, cotton underwear. Tight underwear might feel comfortable, but it’s rarely the best option for airflow and dryness. Likewise, while fabrics like silk feel great, they may trap moisture against your skin and increase your risk of infections.
Try to avoid tight-fitting clothing, especially underwear. Stick to cotton clothing that fits naturally, as this provides the best balance of comfort, dryness and breathability.
How to Treat a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are a common type of infection, especially for women. Even if you practice good urinary health habits such as those mentioned above, it’s relatively common to develop a UTI at some point in your life.
You may have a higher risk of developing a UTI if you’re pregnant, have recently changed your sexual partner, are going through menopause or have previously had one or several UTIs.
Common symptoms of a UTI include a feeling or pain or burning while you urinate, a frequent need to urinate, blood in your urine and pressure or cramps that occur in your lower abdomen and pelvis area.
You may also feel a persistent need to urinate throughout the day, even if you don’t have any urine in your bladder.
UTIs tend to develop in your bladder, but they can spread to your kidneys. When this happens, you may also experience chills, fever, nausea, vomiting and pain in your lower back.
If you think you may have a UTI, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider. You can also seek treatment from a US-licensed healthcare provider via our online primary care platform.
Since UTIs are often caused by bacteria, they’re usually treated using antibiotics. Your healthcare provider will choose the most appropriate antibiotic for you based on your symptoms, health history and the bacteria that’s causing your infection.
If you’re prescribed an antibiotic, make sure that you closely follow the instructions provided by your healthcare provider. Take all of the antibiotics you’re prescribed, even if your symptoms go away before the end of treatment.
Stopping antibiotics early or leaving them for later could cause your infection to return, making it more difficult to treat in the future.
If you have a recurring UTI, make sure to tell your healthcare provider as soon as you can. Your healthcare provider may prescribe different antibiotics, or recommend taking antibiotics daily or after sex as a preventative measure against infection.
Although UTIs are generally easy to treat, it’s always best to prevent infections from developing in the first place.
Simple habits, such as keeping yourself hydrated, urinating often, wiping from front to back and practicing good hygiene at all times and especially during your period can make a big impact towards reducing your risk of developing a urinary tract infection.
If you think you might have a UTI, talk to your healthcare provider. You can also seek treatment from a US-licensed healthcare provider using our online primary care platform.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.