10 Ways to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections

by Dr. Aliza
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An urgent – and frequent – need to urinate, a burning pain when you pee, pressure or discomfort in your abdominal area, fever, nausea and even vomiting… These are some of the unpleasant symptoms of urinary tract infections. About 8 million cases of this condition, which is more common in women than in men, are diagnosed annually in the United States. Luckily, there are ways to avoid them. Check out my tips so you’ll know what to do.

Many teens, like you, end up going to the doctor because they have symptoms of what is commonly called a urinary tract infection or UTI. To understand what could be going on, let's start by reviewing what you may have already learned in school about the functions of the urinary tract, an important part of our bodies. The urinary tract is responsible for cleaning up waste, toxins and excess fluid from the blood and removing them from the body in the form of urine. Your kidneys filter your blood as it passes through them and manufactures urine, which travels down the ureters into the bladder, which stores it until it leaves your body through the urethra.

Infections that affect the urinary tract are principally caused by bacteria living in the intestines (specifically, E. coli). When these bacteria leave your body through the feces and you don’t do a good job of cleaning (especially if you wipe from back to front), the bacteria can easily spread to the genital area and infect the urethra (causing urethritis) and the bladder (causing cystitis).

Some symptoms of bladder infection include:

-    A burning sensation when urinating
-    The need to urinate often (though, sometimes very little urine comes out)
-    Smelly urine
-    Blood in the urine
-    Pain in the lower abdomen

These are usually infections of the lower urinary tract, which – although unpleasant – are easier to treat, usually by taking antibiotics for about three days. But sometimes the bacteria can travel up from the bladder and affect the kidneys (causing pyelonephritis), which has more serious symptoms such as fever, chills, abdominal pain, nausea and/or vomiting. In such cases it is necessary to address the infection quickly so it doesn’t affect your kidney function and so that it doesn’t go into the bloodstream. Treatment also includes the appropriate antibiotic, for as long as the doctor prescribes it, generally a minimum of ten days.

But the golden rule is that prevention is better than a cure. I recommend the following, so you can avoid the hassle and risk of lower urinary tract infections or higher ones that affect the kidneys:

1.    Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. First, this helps to dilute the urine. And, since you’ll go to the bathroom more often, the bacteria will leave your body in the urine before they can build up and cause an infection. If your urine is dark yellow, it means you should drink more fluids. Ideally, urine should be pale yellow.

2.    After urinating or having a bowel movement, always wipe from front to back. That way, the bacteria around the anus will not move forward into the area around the vagina or urethra. Never use the same paper to wipe the anal area twice. Use a fresh sheet for each wipe.

3.    When you take a shower or bath, dry your genital area from front to back. Rinse thoroughly and dry by patting or by blotting with the towel from front to back.

4.    Avoid using “feminine hygiene” products that can irritate the urethra, such as douches, powders or vaginal deodorants.

5.    If you have to urinate, don’t wait too long. Ideally, you should empty your bladder every four hours during the day. But if you drink plenty of fluids, you may need to urinate more frequently.

6.    During your periods, it’s preferable to use tampons rather than sanitary towels, as they keep the area dryer, reducing the chances of a bladder infection.

7.    Avoid wearing underwear that is too tight or is made from a material that doesn’t "breathe" and therefore retains moisture, which promotes the spread of bacteria. Cotton underwear is best.

8.    If you are already sexually active, be especially careful with your personal hygiene as sexual activity can carry bacteria from the anus to the urethra and then easily pass into the bladder. Urinate soon after intercourse and drink enough water (one or two glasses) to help flush bacteria.

9.    Avoid bubble baths if you notice that they irritate the area and predispose you to infection.

10.    When you exercise or participate in a sport, drink plenty of fluids and urinate frequently to empty your bladder.

Even if you take all these precautions, you may occasionally experience a lower urinary tract infection (a bladder infection). If you have symptoms, don’t wait! See your doctor right away so you can receive treatment and avoid complications.


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