When faced with the telltale agonizing symptoms — like a frequent urge to pee, burning sensations, and lower abdominal pain — it only makes sense that you'd want to treat a UTI yourself and find relief as soon as possible. Cut to you at the drugstore reading the backs of supplement bottles, or scanning the internet for at-home remedies. But before you try to clear up the infection on your own, doctors have a few things they want you to know.
There are countless tips out there for treating UTIs, but whether or not they'll actually work depends on a few factors, such as how far along the infection may be. It's often necessary to take a course of antibiotics, so if these symptoms aren't going away, you'll want to make an appointment with your doctor. "It is important to get a UTI treated because a bladder infection can develop and spread to the kidneys and bloodstream, which can be dangerous," family and emergency medical doctor, Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, tells Bustle.
Apart from going to the doctor and getting a urine test, you'll probably know when it's time for antibiotics based on how bad you feel. "It needs to be treated when the person has symptoms of fever, chills, pain in their back or lower abdomen, pain with urination, [or] blood in the urine," Dr. Rena D. Malik, MD, a urologist and director of Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery at University of Maryland School of Medicine, tells Bustle. "It does not need to be treated just for smelly or dark urine."
That said, there are a few things that may help clear the infection if it's in its early stages, as well as things you can do to prevent a UTI from forming in the first place. And one of the most popular is taking cranberry supplements. "Studies have shown that cranberries contain an ingredient that prevents bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract, thereby keeping infections away," Dr. Yeral Patel, MD, a functional medicine physician, tells Bustle. "Many women also take 'women's health' probiotics that are specially designed to help ward off UTIs and yeast infections and those are safe and effective as well."
Drinking water may also help flush bacteria away. "If the symptoms are limited to pain with urination or bladder discomfort, people can try to treat at home with lots of hydration," Malik says. "UTIs are self-limited, particularly in women meaning that, almost 40% of women with a UTI have symptom improvement within a week and clear the infection without antibiotics."
And finally, you can try increasing your intake of foods high in vitamin C, which will "help boost your immune system," Patel says, so your body can fight off the infection. "However, if you are experiencing symptoms for more than one to two days or are having fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, flank pain or blood in the urine," she says, "then you should see a doctor as soon as possible to get treated with antibiotics."
There are a few lifestyle changes you can make, too, in order to lower your risk of getting a UTI. "When going to the bathroom, always wipe from front to back, never back to front," Patel says. "If you wipe back to front, bacteria from the rectum can enter the urinary tract and cause infection." This is a simple change you can make, should you catch yourself wiping the other way.
Taking the time to pee after sex can also be a big help, Patel says, as well as drinking plenty of water, as both will help flush out any bacteria that may have found their way into your urethra, where they can make you sick. And as a final precaution, "avoid douching and avoid using fragranced products to clean yourself," Patel says. "Exposure to synthetic chemicals can make you more susceptible to infections."
UTIs are never fun, but there are things you can do to treat them yourself at home, as well as ways to keep them from forming in the first place. Doctors often recommend things like drinking water and taking cranberry supplements, but caution against waiting too long to get antibiotics. And if you've ever had UTI symptoms, you know they're totally right.
Hisano, M., Bruschini, H., Nicodemo, A., & Srougi, M. (2012). Cranberries and lower urinary tract infection prevention. Clinics, 67(6), 661–667. doi: 10.6061/clinics/2012(06)18
Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, a board-certified medical doctor
Dr. Rena D. Malik, MD, director of Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery at University of Maryland School of Medicine
Dr. Yeral Patel, MD, CEO, founder, and lead physician at Perfect YOUth