Urinary tract infections are a bummer, to say the least. They're also more common than you may think: According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, UTIs account for about 8.1 million visits to health care providers each year—they’re the second most common type of infection in the body! Even if you haven’t experienced one yet (lucky you), there’s unfortunately a solid chance you will at some point. Ugh, is right.
Glamour spoke with Dr. David Kim, and Dr. Thais Aliabadi, both gynecologists at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles, to learn the truth about UTIs and how to prevent them. Here's what they say every woman needs to know:
UTIs aren't always caused by sex.
While UTI’s are often associated with sex, it’s not sex itself that actually causes them. “Sex isn’t a cause of UTI’s, but the relative odds of a UTI occurring increase by a factor of 60 during the 48 hours after sexual intercourse,” Kim said. That's because sex creates friction near your urethra, making it all too easy any bacteria that might be hanging out in the area to enter.
Aliabadi explained: “The opening of the urethra is near the vagina, and the bacteria from this area can enter the urinary tract [during or after sex].”
Other things that can cause a UTI? “Inability to fully empty the bladder, blockages in the urinary tract, and anatomical defects,” Aliabadi said.
Drinking cranberry juice won't cure a UTI.
According to Kim, “Randomized controlled trials have shown that drinking 50 to 750 ml of cranberry or lingonberry juice or taking cranberry concentrate tablets reduces the risk of recurrent UTIs by 10 to 20 percent.”
But while it may prevent an infection, it doesn’t stop it.
“By the time a person has a UTI, cranberry juice is probably not going to be helpful and seeing a doctor for antibiotics is probably more effective,” he said.
If you do suspect you have a UTI, Aliabadi said it’s important to see a healthcare provider “to prevent the infection from traveling further into the kidneys,” one of the possible complications of an untreated UTI. “A kidney infection is much more severe and can often require hospitalization.”
There's no clear reason some women are more prone to UTIs than others.
“The reasons why some women get UTI’s more often than others is unknown," Aliabadi said. "UTI’s affect approximately 15 percent of women each year, and 25 percent of those women are likely to have a recurrence.”
You do have some control.
While you can't 100-percent prevent a UTI, Dr. Aliabadi said that there are plenty of lifestyle factors that can help lower your risk. "Always wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria from reaching the urethra, stay hydrated, and drink plenty of water," he suggested. "Also wearing cotton underwear, and urinating before and after sex can help prevent UTIs.” Noted!