- BHealth Blog
- In the meantime, there are a few things you can do for a little relief.
- Urinary Tract Infections
- DON’T: Put Off Going to the Doctor
- DON’T: Stop Taking Your Prescribed Antibiotics
- DON’T: Skimp On Water Intake
- DON’T: Consume Anything That’ll Aggravate Your Symptoms
- DON’T: Hold In Your Pee
- DON’T: Get Your Freak On
- Symptoms of a Bladder Infection
- Part 1: Preventing Bladder Infections Naturally
- General prevention suggestions
- Dietary Suggestions for Prevention
- Nutritional and Herbal Supplements for Prevention
- Part 2: Natural Treatment of Bladder Infections
- General and Dietary Treatment
- Nutritional Supplements for Treatment
- Herbal Remedies for Treatment
- When to See Your Doctor and When an Antibiotic is Recommended
- What causes a urinary tract infection?
- Why Antibiotics May No Longer “Do The Trick” for Treating UTI’s
- Natural Home Remedies for UTI’s
- Honorable Mention: Probiotics
- Why I didn’t include baking soda
- What if the UTI isn’t due to e. coli?
- Lifestyle Changes
- When to see a doctor
If you’re reading this post, you’re likely in the midst of a bladder infection or urinary tract infection (UTI) and are in some serious need of relief now! We get it – UTIs are no fun – they can be really painful, leave you rushing to the bathroom nonstop, and can even lead to leaks. So it’s no wonder you’re researching quick cures for bladder infections.
The best thing you can do for fast relief from a bladder infection is to is see your doctor, and get an antibiotic.
Antibiotics kill the bacteria that causes bladder infections and are the best way to stop a UTI in its tracks. They typically work pretty quickly, although be sure to take your medication for the full course, even if you’re feeling better sooner than that. So, if you’ve been experiencing a UTI for more than a couple of days, make an appointment with your doctor now to get treatment.
In the meantime, there are a few things you can do for a little relief.
Drink water – lots of it. Getting in the recommended eight glasses of water per day can help flush the bacteria out of your bladder and make you heal a bit faster. Limit your caffeine or sugary drinks though, as they can irritate you bladder.
When you gotta go, go. Holding your urine when you really have to go gives time for the bacteria in your system to multiply, making it harder to get rid of.
Talk to your doctor about over the counter pain relievers. While these won’t cure a UTI, they may help give you a bit of relief while you’re waiting for the antibiotics to treat the infection.
Rest. Getting enough rest gives your body the energy it needs to be able to fight off an infection. Make sure you are getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
Wear loose clothing. Not only will this be more comfortable for you during this time, but it might also prevent bacteria growth. Bacteria grow the quickest in moist, warm environments so ditch the skinny jeans for a week or so and opt for loose trousers, skirts or dresses.
Follow the steps above for quick relief from UTIs.
Urinary Tract Infections
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It was only third period, but Tracy had already visited the bathroom six times that morning. Sometimes she barely had time to ask the teacher for permission because the urge to pee was so intense. Did she drink too much orange juice for breakfast? Nope — although she really had to go, only a little urine came out each time. And every time she peed, she felt a burning sensation. What was going on?
Tracy’s experience is not unusual. Her problem, a urinary tract infection, is one of the most common reasons that teens — especially girls — visit a doctor.
What Is a Urinary Tract Infection?
A bacterial urinary tract infection (UTI) is the most common kind of infection affecting the urinary tract. Urine, or pee, is the fluid that is filtered out of the bloodstream by the kidneys. Urine contains salts and waste products, but it doesn’t normally contain bacteria. When bacteria get into the bladder or kidney and multiply in the urine, a UTI can result.
There are three main types of UTI. Bacteria that infect only the urethra (the short tube that delivers urine from the bladder to the outside of the body) cause urethritis (pronounced: yur-ih-threye-tis).
Bacteria can also cause a bladder infection, which is called cystitis (pronounced: sis-tie-tis). Another, more serious, kind of UTI is infection of the kidney itself, known as pyelonephritis (pronounced: pie-low-nih-fry-tis). With this type of UTI, a person often has back pain, high fever, and vomiting.
The most common type of UTI, the bladder infection, causes mostly just discomfort and inconvenience. Bladder infections can be quickly and easily treated. And it’s important to get treatment promptly to avoid the more serious infection that reaches the kidneys.
Bacteria Are to Blame
UTIs are usually caused by E. coli, bacteria that are normally found in the digestive tract and on the skin around the rectal and vaginal areas. When the bacteria enter the urethra, they can make their way up into the bladder and cause an infection.
Girls get urinary tract infections much more frequently than guys, most likely due to differences in the shape and length of the urethra. Girls have shorter urethras than guys, and the opening lies closer to the rectum and vagina where bacteria are likely to be.
Some people seem to get frequent UTIs, but they often have other problems that make them more prone to infection, like an abnormality in the urinary tract structures or function. The most common functional problem of the urinary tract is called vesicoureteral reflux (pronounced: veh-zi-coe-you-ree-tur-al), a condition in which some urine flows backward, or refluxes, from the bladder into the ureters and even up to the kidneys.
Bacteria can get into the urethra several ways. During sexual intercourse, for example, the bacteria in the vaginal area may be pushed into the urethra and eventually end up in the bladder, where urine provides a good environment for the bacteria to grow. This is the reason why females who are sexually active often get UTIs (UTIs are not contagious, so you can’t catch a urinary tract infection from someone else).
Bacteria may also be introduced into a girl’s bladder by wiping from back to front after a bowel movement, which can contaminate the urethral opening. The use of spermicides (including condoms treated with spermicide) and diaphragms as contraceptives also may increase the risk of UTIs.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) may cause UTI-like symptoms, such as pain with urination. This is due to the inflammation and irritation of the urethra or vagina that’s sometimes associated with chlamydia and other STDs. If untreated, STDs can lead to serious long-term problems, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility. Unlike UTIs, STDs are contagious.
Symptoms of UTIs
A number of symptoms are associated with UTIs, including:
- frequent urination
- burning or pain during urination
- the feeling of having to pee even though little or no urine actually comes out
- pain in the lower abdomen
- pain above the pubic bone (in women)
- a full feeling in the rectum (in men)
- bloody or foul-smelling urine
- mild fever
- a general feeling of shakiness and fatigue
A kidney infection may involve more serious symptoms, including:
- high fever
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal pain
- cloudy or bloody urine
- pain in the back, just above the waist
If you have any symptoms of a urinary tract infection, you’ll need to go to a doctor right away. The symptoms won’t go away if you ignore them — they’ll only become worse. The more quickly you begin treatment, the less uncomfortable it will be.
Call your doctor’s office or clinic immediately. If you can’t reach your doctor, you can visit an urgent care center or hospital emergency room. The most important thing is to take action as soon as possible.
Battling the Bacteria
Only your health care provider can treat urinary tract infections. The first thing a doctor will do is confirm that a person has a UTI by taking a clean-catch urine specimen. At the doctor’s office, you’ll be asked to clean your genital area with disposable wipes and then urinate into a sterile (bacteria-free) cup.
If an infection is suspected when the specimen is examined, a doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics. Because there are many different antibiotics available, the doctor may send the urine specimen for a urine culture, which is a test to identify the exact type of bacteria causing your infection. It takes about 48 hours to get results from a urine culture, and a doctor may ask patients to switch antibiotics depending on the results.
Although antibiotics begin fighting the infection right away, they can’t stop all the symptoms immediately. If someone has a lot of pain from a UTI, the doctor may recommend a medication to help relieve the spasm and pain in the bladder. This will turn urine a bright orange color, but it’s harmless and will usually make a person much more comfortable within hours. In the case of a kidney infection, a doctor may prescribe pain medication.
For some infections, a person may only have to take antibiotics for 3 days, but usually people with UTIs need to stay on medicine for 7 to 14 days. It’s important to take the antibiotics until the prescription is finished. Many people stop taking medication when they begin to feel better, but that doesn’t allow the antibiotics to completely kill the bacteria, which increases the risk that the infection will reappear.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a UTI and symptoms continue after you’ve used up all your medication or if your symptoms aren’t much better after 2 to 3 days of treatment, contact your doctor.
It’s important to drink lots of water during and after treatment because each time you urinate, the bladder cleanses itself a little bit more. Cranberry juice may also be helpful. People with UTIs should avoid coffee and spicy foods, which can irritate the bladder. Smoking also irritates the bladder, and cause bladder problems later on.
People who get a doctor’s help for a UTI right away should be clear of symptoms within a week. For a more serious kidney infection, most people have to return to the doctor’s office for a follow-up visit to ensure that the infection has responded completely to the medication.
In either case, a doctor may tell people with UTIs to avoid sexual intercourse for a week or so, which allows the inflammation to disappear completely.
There are several ways people may be able to prevent urinary tract infections. After urination, girls should wipe from front to back with toilet paper. After bowel movements, be sure to wipe from front to back to avoid spreading bacteria from the rectal area to the urethra.
Another thing both girls and guys can do to prevent UTIs is to go to the bathroom frequently. Avoid holding urine for long periods of time.
Males and females should also keep the genital area clean and dry. Girls should change their tampons and pads regularly during their periods. Frequent bubble baths can cause irritation of the vaginal area, so girls should take showers or plain baths. Avoid prolonged exposure to moisture in the genital area by not wearing nylon underwear or wet swimsuits. Wearing underwear with cotton crotches is also helpful. And girls should skip using feminine hygiene sprays or douches — these products can irritate the urethra.
If you are sexually active, go to the bathroom both before and within 15 minutes after intercourse. After sex, gently wash the genital area to remove any bacteria. Avoid sexual positions that irritate or hurt the urethra or bladder. Couples who use lubrication during sex should use a water-soluble lubricant such as K-Y Jelly.
Finally, drinking lots of water each day keeps the bladder active and bacteria free.
Remember that although urinary tract infections are uncomfortable and often painful, they are very common and easily treated. The sooner you contact your doctor, the sooner you’ll be able to get rid of the problem.
Reviewed by: T. Ernesto Figueroa, MD Date reviewed: May 2016
I checked the contents of my Jeep: a water jug, two sleeping bags, my tent, bear spray, a cooler. I was ready. Driving south from my home in Yellowknife, N.W.T., I was headed to the 60th parallel for a week on my first solo camping trip. I couldn’t wait for the adventure to begin! It was the May long weekend in 2012, and temperatures were low, so I was blissfully alone at the campsite. I pitched my tent, roasted a hot dog and mixed some hot chocolate over a fire. It was totally serene, and I felt more peaceful than I had in months — until I woke the next morning to a familiar burn and wet undies.
It was an excruciating sensation that I instantly associated with tearful trips to the emergency room. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought as I pulled off my underwear. Naked from the waist down in an empty territorial park, I was two hours from the nearest hospital, with no cellphone service, no extra pants — and it wasn’t even cranberry season. Not the best place to experience my fourth bladder infection in two months.
Read more: Urinary tract infections 101 >
Studies show up to 50 percent of women will have a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point in their lifetimes (ideally closer to home!), and most of them will have recurring infections within a few months. UTIs are caused by the presence of E. coli bacteria in the urinary tract, which includes the bladder, urethra, kidneys and ureters. “If simple bladder-related UTIs are left untreated in a healthy person, the body can slowly heal the infection; however, more complicated UTIs can lead to severe health problems, including high blood pressure, kidney failure or death,” says Dr. Curtis Nickel, a urology professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. UTIs don’t appear subtly. When I was in university, seven years before my ill-fated camping trip, I unexpectedly wet myself on my bedroom floor and knew I had a problem. I spent the rest of the night running to the bathroom in distress, feeling as though I had to pee constantly, although nothing happened when I tried. I had no idea what was going on. I’d learn later that urinary incontinence is a symptom, though more common signs are the incessant burning sensation of needing to pee, excruciating pain while urinating, pressure in the lower abdomen and blood in your urine.
The next morning, I was diagnosed by a school doctor and prescribed a standard three-day course of antibiotics to fight the infection, as well as a painkiller to deal with the burn. It worked fast — within a day, my pain was gone. Generally, if it’s your first UTI and you’re otherwise healthy, a three-day treatment plan should be all you need.
When the burn comes back
Doctors aren’t sure why some women get hit with recurring infections and others don’t. Research suggests a thin vaginal lining might be the cause, but much is still unknown. Studies have also linked UTIs to everything from frequent sex and wiping back-to-front to eating chicken bought in supermarkets. (One recent study found the strains of E. coli bacteria in women with UTIs matched the strains found in chicken.)
Nickel says most UTIs in women can be linked to sexual activity, which stirs up bacteria in the vagina and urethra. “We used to call it honeymoon cystitis,” he says. “It’s why we see a spike of infections in college students and newlyweds.” There seems to be a genetic disposition too, he adds. For instance, if you’ve inherited a thin vaginal lining or abnormal bladder lining, you may be more prone to UTIs.
I don’t have a family history for this type of condition, so I chalked up my first UTI as a random one-off. Of course, that theory went out the window two months before my camping trip, when I got another blasted infection at work. Even though it had been years, there was no forgetting that evil burning sensation. “I’ve just got to run an errand,” I called to my boss as I rushed out the door and headed for the ER. I had the same three-day treatment as before, but this time wound up with a second infection a week later.
Watch: How to treat a bladder infection the natural way >
Naturally, I asked about preventive measures and applied every one I heard. So, for example, I’d jump out of bed after sex and bolt to the bathroom to pee; I started taking cranberry pills. (Studies show cranberry products containing proanthocyanidins — the chemical thought to help prevent the infections — reduce UTI risk by 14 percent.) With each new infection, I was told there was nothing more serious going on, and that as long as I took antibiotics, it would go away. The doctors just didn’t say how long that would take or when I might get another infection.
When I mentioned my recurring infections to Nickel, he said he would have treated me a little differently and sent me home with an extra-long duration of low-dose antibiotics to make sure the infection was gone, especially since it wasn’t my first.
“Each infection may be a little harder to get rid of than the first one,” he says. “It takes weeks for some people’s bladders to get back on track. That’s why I would have put you on the low-dose antibiotics for longer to break the cycle and give your immune system time to recover.” He also would have given me antibiotics to take as soon as the symptoms cropped up the next time around, to catch the infection sooner and prevent yet another trip to the ER.
Nickel teaches a self-directed treatment program to some of his patients. “If a patient has recurrent UTIs, they know what an infection is — they recognize the symptoms and know they tend to get worse in the afternoon or evening. I give them antibiotics with instructions to take them for three days as soon as the symptoms arise.”
Nickel says studies show women are better predictors of when they need antibiotics than physicians. “No one should suffer for 48 hours when they know what the problem is and how to treat it.” If my symptoms had persisted, he adds, he’d have advised me to get more medical help to rule out antibiotic resistance or a more serious infection.
Read more: How to treat a bladder infection >
Putting out the fire, for good!
Antibiotics are less effective because bacteria are becoming more resistant to them. The only other treatment solution may lie in vaccines, and scientists at the University of Michigan are hard at work trying to find one. Harry Mobley, microbiology and immunology chair at the university, leads a research lab and reads the emails he gets from sufferers to the scientists in his lab every week. “Women want to know if there’s a clinical trial going on,” Mobley says. “We’re working on it. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s also motivating.”
So far, Mobley’s team has succeeded in creating a vaccine in the form of a nasal spray, tested on mice, that contains six possibly protective proteins isolated by the lab. Four of the proteins worked, significantly reducing bacteria in the mice’s bladders and kidneys. Mobley says he’s now stuck in “the valley of death,” which is research-speak for trying to move his findings into the pricier corporate-backed stage of clinical trials. “If you’re a mouse, you don’t have to worry about urinary tract infections,” he says, adding that he believes a vaccine will be available in the next five to 10 years.
Back in the Canadian wilderness, I didn’t let my infection ruin my adventure. After a fast, somewhat frantic trip to an emergency room and pharmacy two hours away, I drove back to my site and finished out the week on principle — better in pain with a nice view of a lake than in my stuffy apartment, I figured. And then, at the end of the spring, my UTIs went away as suddenly as they had arrived.
To this day I still pee like clockwork after sex (no cuddling for me!). The good news: It turns out my risk of infection is lower now, because research shows once you’ve kicked a bout of recurring infections for good, you’re less likely to be hit by another UTI. Still, I’m adding both cranberry pills and bottles of juice to my gear list on my next camping trip. Better safe than very, very sorry.
Here are some of the most common signs:
Once you’ve had one, the symptoms are pretty unmistakable, but for first-timers it can be troubling.
1. Burning sensation
2. Pelvic pain
3. Constant urge to pee
4. Blood in your urine
When to worry
If you have a fever, that means the infection is more serious. Some UTIs, when left untreated, can travel into the kidneys, which can lead to high blood pressure, struvite stones (a form of kidney stone), kidney failure or even death. If you have any of the above symptoms, go see your doctor, stat.
*Every story is based on one person’s experience navigating the health care maze. By highlighting an individual’s struggle and outcome, we hope to help others make smart, informed decisions. Regulations and results for any therapy vary by province and individual. Check with your insurance provider about coverage policies before treatment.
If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection, you know they are their own special kind of hell. And considering one in five women gets a UTI at least once in her life, according to the National Kidney Foundation, chances are your ticket will get punched if it hasn’t already. A urinary tract infection happens when bacteria sneak into your bladder through your urethra (what your pee comes out of) and multiply, causing the lining of your urinary tract to swell up. This leads to symptoms like frequent urges to urinate, a burning sensation while you pee, pelvic pain, and more.
That’s why “it’s important to avoid certain activities, to give the area time to heal, flush out bacteria, and not worsen symptoms or cause irritation to the vaginal area,” says Bilal Chugtai, M.D., urologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York Presbyterian. So, to help keep your bathroom from turning into an all-out torture chamber, here’s a roundup of the poorest decisions you could possibly make when you have a UTI … and what you should do instead.
DON’T: Put Off Going to the Doctor
When UTI symptoms rear their ugly head, trying to treat them yourself will only give the infection more time to spread. The more you delay getting medical attention, the more you’re putting yourself at risk for serious health complications.
“Waiting too long to start treatment can allow the infection to progress from a simple bladder infection treated with three days of oral antibiotics to a complex kidney infection requiring intravenous antibiotics,” says Ekene Enemchukwu, M.D., assistant professor of urology at Stanford University School of Medicine. “Failing to see your healthcare provider could also result in the delayed diagnosis of a more serious condition. UTI-like symptoms in the absence of bacteria can be caused by other conditions, such as vaginal infections, STDs, kidney stones, severe constipation, and vaginal atrophy.”
Do: Play It Safe
It’s always better to err on the side of caution. Rather than trying the wait-and-see method, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you notice any telltale signs of a UTI. And remember: Over-the-counter meds like AZO might mask the pain, but they won’t oust the bacteria like antibiotics do.
RELATED: 13 WOMEN SHARE THEIR GYNO HORROR STORIES
While you’re thinking about your health, brush up on how to do a breast self-exam:
DON’T: Stop Taking Your Prescribed Antibiotics
When your doc tells you to take an antibiotic for three, seven or 10 days, he’s not just pulling numbers out of a hat. Various studies are done to determine exactly how long each antibiotic needs to be in your system in order to fully eliminate infection. So, while it’s very likely that you’ll start to feel better after one or two days of taking your meds, that doesn’t mean the antibiotics have finished their job. If you stop your treatment too soon, you’re only building the bacteria’s defenses against the meds, rendering the antibiotics useless—and digging yourself into a deeper hole.
“Survivor bacteria that have been exposed to a short course of antibiotics will evolve to resist that antibiotic,” says David Kaufman, M.D., of Central Park Urology in New York City. That means the infection will no longer respond to the medication, making it much tougher to get rid of the UTI.
Do: Take Your Meds As Prescribed
It’s fun to be rebellious sometimes, but this ain’t the time to do it. The rule here is simple: If your doctor tells you to take your antibiotics for 10 days, then just take them for 10 days. Have a habit of forgetting to pop the pill? Set an alarm on your phone. “If symptoms persist after you complete your antibiotics, you should be re-evaluated by your healthcare provider,” says Enemchukwu.
DON’T: Skimp On Water Intake
Those dreadful bathroom visits may make you think twice about chugging a glass of water, but depriving your body of H20 sets up a cozy internal environment where your urinary tract infection can really hunker down.
“Water is essential for all bodily functions,” says Carolyn DeLucia, M.D., of VSPOT Medi SPA. “If we are dehydrated, then the bacteria can fester in the bladder. When we are well-hydrated, we urinate regularly, and the water cleans the walls easily. It’s like cleaning out a glass that you had tomato juice in. If you just try to wipe off the glass without water, you can’t be sure you cleaned off all the sides.”
Not drinking enough water can also prevent your medication from getting where it needs to go: “Antibiotics have to have good penetration into the kidneys and bladder,” says Vandana Bhide, M.D., board-certified internist and pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic. “Drinking a lot of water will help deliver the antibiotic to the urinary tract. It also flushes the kidneys and bladder, and it prevents dehydration and kidney stones.”
Do: Keep That Water Bottle Handy
According to DeLucia, the gold standard is to drink half of your weight in ounces each day. So if you weigh 120 pounds, you should aim to gulp down 60 ounces of agua daily. Keep in mind that water will also help dilute the toxins in your urinary tract and give you symptom relief, but it won’t cure your infection. We can’t stress this enough: The only way to fully squash your condition is to take all your prescribed meds.
RELATED: 10 WAYS TO DRINK MORE WATER
DON’T: Consume Anything That’ll Aggravate Your Symptoms
Just because you should be drinking more water doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to gorge on any liquid bev. Doctors highly suggest avoiding foods and drinks that are known to rub the bladder the wrong way, including coffee, alcohol, caffeinated sodas, acidic fruits, spicy foods, and artificial sweeteners.
That said, don’t flip your lid if you accidentally partake in a tricky treat: “Exposing yourself to these irritants in the midst of a UTI isn’t particularly harmful or dangerous,” says Kaufman. “It just makes you feel worse, like putting salt in a wound.”
Do: Opt for Sugar-Free Cranberry Juice Instead
If you have to have something flavored, reach for a glass of 100-percent natural cranberry juice (so, not the cocktail variety). “Consider cranberry supplements ,” says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., gynecologist and assistant clinical professor at CareMount Medical. “An ingredient in cranberry can make the bladder more slippery so bacteria can’t adhere.”
DON’T: Hold In Your Pee
Running to the little girls’ room every five seconds isn’t exactly fun or convenient, especially if the thought of public bathrooms makes you cringe. But if you have the urge to go and hold it in instead, you could be setting up your urinary tract for some major issues. When you retain your urine, you’re also hanging on to all those germs that are floating around in your bladder—the opposite of what you should do if you’re hoping for a quick recovery.
“Emptying out the bladder flushes out the bacteria that’s been introduced there,” says Bhide. “Many women are so busy during the day that they don’t have time to urinate. This can increase the risk of UTIs .”
Do: Take Bathroom Breaks As Needed
This holds true whether you have a UTI or not: If you gotta go, go. You don’t have to spend the whole day on the john, but make sure you’re not forcing yourself to hold your flow. And when the time comes to do your biz, remember to wipe from front to back.
“It’s recommended for women so that bacteria from the anus and colon are not introduced to the bladder through the urethra,” says Bhide. “The urethra is a lot shorter in women than in men, so that’s why women tend to get bladder infections more commonly than men.” Experts also recommend peeing before and after sex so you can sweep away any bacteria that might have snuck up there while you were doing the deed.
RELATED: 11 THINGS ALL GIRLS DO AFTER SEX BUT NEVER ADMIT TO
DON’T: Get Your Freak On
Speaking of sex, doing it while you have a UTI isn’t exactly advised. “Most women with symptomatic UTIs avoid sexual activity because it’s too uncomfortable,” says Enemchukwu. “It can also theoretically push bacteria from the vagina back into the bladder, causing a new infection. It’s generally best to refrain from sexual activity during an active infection to allow the inflammation to resolve.”
Do: Proceed With Caution
While doctors suggest waiting until the urinary tract infection has cleared and your symptoms are gone, that’s not to say that you’re completely banned from gettin’ it on. “I usually allow the patient to decide when she is ready for sex,” says Kaufman. “It’s typically not a big problem once she starts antibiotic treatment.” So if you two can’t keep your hands off each other, go ahead and give it a try. If the friction of intercourse is too much, stop. If not, then you’re in the clear. (Check out these fun lube options from the Women’s Health Boutique.)
Updated February 21, 2017
Urinary tract, and especially bladder infections are super common – over half of us will have at least one at some point in our lives, up to 20% of all women have some urinary discomfort or a bladder infection every year, and as many as 20% of us gals will have a recurrence 6 months after a bladder infection. That’s a lot of bladder infections!
Bladder and kidney infections are both types of urinary tract infections. This article will focus on bladder infections, because kidney infections require antibiotic treatment, whereas, common bladder infections often respond well to natural therapies.
By preventing bladder infections, you can prevent break the UTI cycle, including preventing recurrent bladder infections, as well kidney infections, which usually arise as a result of a bladder infection. By treating them naturally, you can avoid the overuse of antibiotics which can wreak havoc on your gut and microbiome, and as a result over time, especially when you have to take them regularly for recurrent bladder infections, have a bigger impact on your health
Symptoms of a Bladder Infection
The most common symptoms of a bladder infection are frequent (and sometimes terribly painful) urination, urgently needing to pee, aching, cramping, or pressure above the pubic bone (that bony ridge down low in the front of your belly), and feeling tired, unwell, or low energy (malaise). You might notice blood in your urine (or on your toilet tissue), something up to 40% of women with a bladder infection experience.
They can make you feel awful enough to have to miss work, and untreated, can progress into more serious kidney infections which can make you really sick.
In a bladder infection, symptoms usually come on pretty suddenly, and there is no fever with a bladder infection. In contrast, kidney infection symptoms generally come on gradually, and there is usually fever, chills, nausea, and low back pain. Antibiotics are important for kidney infections, but bladder infections in healthy adult women who are not pregnant can often be treated naturally.
In young, sexually active women, sudden onset of painful urination can also be due to chlamydia infection, or more rarely gonorrhea, so getting a urine culture that includes these tests is a good idea.
Vaginal yeast infections can also cause irritation of the urethra, leading to bladder-infection like symptoms, so consider this as a possible cause if you’ve been struggling with symptoms of a vaginal infection (itching, burning, thick or odorous vaginal discharge) and also consider getting a urine and vaginal culture done in this case if you’re not sure what’s going on.
Both in the prevention and treatment of UTI, the main goals are:
• support your body’s natural defenses against infection
• restore microflora balance and health
• promote bladder pH that is inhospitable to harmful bacteria
• prevent bacteria from adhering to the wall of the bladder
Part 1: Preventing Bladder Infections Naturally
Before we talk about treatment, let’s talk about prevention.
Bladder infections arise from bacteria in the bladder – usually E. coli, though there are a few other bothersome varieties, too. Kidney infections generally occur when bacteria from the bladder travels up the ureters, the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.
Bacteria can take hold in the bladder when:
- we’ve been eating excess sugar (or drinking alcohol which is high in sugar) which dampens the immune system and also feeds unhealthy gut and vaginal flora
- when we’re under stress
- having a lot of sex (particularly with a new partner, or more than usual as on a honeymoon or vacation)
- or experience disruptions in the balance of the vaginal or gut flora for example, from taking antibiotics, diet, or other triggers.
Both the gut flora and vaginal ecology play a key role in preventing UTIs by keeping bacteria that can migrate from either place to the urethra in check. Lactobacillus species naturally present in the vagina specifically prevent E. coli from proliferating.
Some women may actually be genetically predisposed to getting more urinary infections – this may be the case if your mom had them a lot, too. But this does not make you doomed to have them; it just means you want to be extra thoughtful in preventing them.
When bladder infections keep coming back, they can either be relapsing, meaning the same one isn’t really clearing and it keeps creeping back up, or more commonly, it is a new infection each time. Either way, you want to make sure there’s nothing underlying going on like diabetes, because high blood sugar can feed bacteria and reduce your immune response, and you want to consider other conditions that can contribute to or mimic urinary tract infection including interstitial cystitis, endometriosis, and chronic vulvovaginitis.
In perimenopausal women, declining estrogen can lead to vaginal dryness that increases the risk of bladder infections. The probiotics discussed in this article can help, as can increasing good quality dietary fats (olive oil, avocado, coconut oil). In some women, specific herbs for supporting estrogen production including hops and vitex can be beneficial.
There’s a lot we can all do to reduce our risk of getting a UTI.
Follow all of these suggestions as recommended, for prevention, for 3-6 months; some women will want to remain on the probiotic and cranberry-d-mannose daily. Also, most women forget to stay hydrated, and we tend to put off peeing until the last possible minute – both of which increase our chance of getting a UTI – so listen to your body! Drink a lot of water and pee as soon as you have the urge.
General prevention suggestions
- Urinate after sex
- Stay well hydrated
- Avoid antibiotic overuse
- Wear underwear with a cotton crotch and avoid wearing thongs if you’re prone to UTI’s. (Think of them as a circus high wire for bacteria to walk across!)
- The use of oral contraceptives (OCs) doubles the risk of UTI, and the use of diaphragms and spermicides doubles the rate of UTI compared to OCs – so if you’re using these and getting UTI’s, consider another form of birth control, from the symptothermal method and condoms to an IUD.
- Menstrual pads are more likely to increase UTIs over using tampons, so consider switching if UTIs are a chronic problem for you, or change your pad more often and wear only pads made from natural cloth or organic cotton.
- Wipe from front to back after a bowel movement – a lot of women do it the other way around and this can increase UTIs.
- If you practice anal sex, avoid contact near the bladder during and after as this is a risk factor.
- Avoid bubble baths and vaginal hygiene products (i.e., douches), which increase irritation in the area and also damage the healthy vaginal flora.
Dietary Suggestions for Prevention
- Keep your gut and vaginal flora healthy with a diet low in sugar and high in fiber, especially from leafy green vegetables every day
- Eat lacto-fermented veggies at least 3 times each week
- Eating fermented dairy products three times per week (yogurt, for example) was shown in one study to dramatically reduce the likelihood of getting a UTI; if you are vegan or paleo, consider a non-dairy yogurt with live active cultures.
- For some women, avoiding or reducing bladder irritating foods including sugar, vinegar, tomatoes, citrus, black tea, coffee, and yup, sorry…chocolate, too, can help.
Nutritional and Herbal Supplements for Prevention
- Take a probiotic 1-2 capsules daily that contains Lactobacillus species, and if you have recurrent vaginal infections as well, make sure it also contains Lactobacillus reuteri and rhamnosus
- Take Cranberry-d-mannose capsules, twice daily. Cranberry can dramatically reduce the colonization and growth of bacteria in the urine, preventing UTI as well as being an important part of treatment of infection. Cranberry extract and juice can be used as well, but I find the cranberry-d-mannose form far superior for prevention.
- Vitamin C: Studies have shown vitamin C enhances the release of nitric oxide in the urine, and that this effect has antimicrobial activity against three of the most common urinary bacteria that cause UTIs. A generally recommended dose for prevention is 500 mg twice daily.
Part 2: Natural Treatment of Bladder Infections
Herbal and nutritional remedies can be excellent alternatives to antibiotics for treating bladder infections and preventing them from recurring. They can help to kill off the harmful bacteria, reduce irritation and inflammation in the urinary tract, boost immunity, and restore healthy flora in the vagina and gut.
Below is the plan I have my patients follow at the onset of bladder infection symptoms. Each part of the plan is important – so don’t skip anything unless there’s something in the plan you know you don’t tolerate.
You can expect symptoms to start to improve after 12-24 hours, though they might initially get worse over the first few hours while treatment is kicking in. Symptoms should be significantly better in 24-72 hours, with complete resolution in 5 days. Because of the high recurrence rate of UTIs, I recommend following this plan for 1 week, after which I suggest you go to the prevention plan above for another week.
This treatment is NOT intended for pregnant women; please see my book The Natural Pregnancy Book for UTI in pregnancy. The plan below is safe while breastfeeding, but if you have a UTI in the few weeks after birth, please also see your midwife or doctor for appropriate recommendations.
General and Dietary Treatment
- Cut out all sugar in your diet for 5 days
- Drink 6 to 8 – 8 oz. glasses of water each day
- Urinate at first urge – don’t hold your urine!
- Avoid sex during treatment and for a few days after
Nutritional Supplements for Treatment
- Take 4 probiotic capsules daily for 2 days, then 2 capsules daily for 5 days. The probiotic should contain Lactobacillus species, and if you have a vaginal infection as well, make sure it also contains Lactobacillus reuteri and rhamnosus
- Take 1000 mg. vitamin C every 4 hours for 2 days, then 500 mg. every 4 hours for 5 additional days
Herbal Remedies for Treatment
- Drink 8 oz. of cranberry juice every 4 hours for 3-5 days, then 16 oz/day for a week, or take Cranberry-d-mannose, 2 capsules twice daily, or if powder, 1 tsp. twice daily for 1 week, or take cranberry extract capsules 400 mg. every 2 hours for 48 hours, and then every 4 hours for 5 days
- The most effective herbal preparations for bladder infection are herbal infusions because they flush through the urinary tract. Here’s a simple and effective preparation: Mix 1/3 ounce each of uva ursi leaf, marshmallow root, and yarrow blossoms and place in a quart sized mason jar or a 4-cup French press. Steep for 1 hour then strain out the liquid or plunge the French press. Dose: 1/2 -1 cup every 4 hours, taken hot or cold. This preparation will keep refrigerated for 48 hours. You can get these herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs; I suggest ordering them overnight mail if you need them right away. Keep them on hand if you tend to get UTIs or
- If you don’t want to make this tea, you can use any of the following products instead: Cranberry Bladder Defense by Planetary Herbals, Cranberry ReLeaf by Herbs, Etc., Herb Pharm Urinary Support + Calm Waters, or Uva Ursi capsules + Marshmallow Root capsules by Nature’s Way. Take these products as directed on the package but take every 2 hours for the first 24 hours, then every 4 hours for the next 5 days.
- If you are experiencing spastic, cramping bladder pain, also take 30 drops of cramp bark tincture plus 30 drops of wild yam tincture and 5-10 drops of kava kava tincture (avoid the kava kava if you have any liver problems or are taking other medications) every 2-4 hours for the first 24 hours, and reduce to every 4-6 hours for the next 24 hours.
When to See Your Doctor and When an Antibiotic is Recommended
While natural self-care is incredibly empowering, my goal in providing this information is not to encourage you to avoid necessary antibiotics. But I do want you to have the information that can help you avoid rounds of unnecessary antibiotic treatment when a natural, effective approach is available. If you have fever, chills, and lower back pain, this is more likely to be a kidney infection, so see your doctor right away, and yes, antibiotics are appropriate. Similarly if you are pregnant and have a kidney infection antibiotics – and sometimes even hospitalization for IV antibiotic treatment — may be appropriate. If you are pregnant and have a bladder infection, unless you are working with a medical doctor or midwife truly skilled in the use of herbal and natural remedies, and sometimes even then so, a short course of antibiotics may be appropriate to avoid the risk of preterm labor or development of kidney infection, both of which can occur in pregnancy due to UTI.
For young girls (under 10 years old) with urinary tract infections, and when there is a kidney infection in any woman at any age, antibiotics are considered appropriate.
If you do require an antibiotic, take it along with a daily probiotic as discussed above to UTI treatment, and then continue the probiotic for 3 months after, along with starting the protocol above for UTI recurrence prevention.
UTI’s are the worst. Okay, maybe getting pelted by porcupine quills is just as bad, but how many porcupines are really trying to cuddle you? So like I said – the worst. After the common cold, they’re “the second most common type of infection in the body, accounting for about 8.1 million visits to health care providers each year”. (1) When one of my children developed symptoms a few years ago while we were traveling, I tried some research-backed home remedies while keeping our pediatrician in the loop.
My goal was to avoid antibiotics if possible – more on why below, plus:
- The research I found most helpful in choosing a course of action
- What we did personally
- What expert resources have to say about the safety of these remedies for pregnant/nursing moms and children
- When to see a doctor (According to medical experts)
Before we jump in, though, I just want to remind you that “Best Boo-Boo Kisser South Of Puckett’s Gas Station” is about as official as things get for me professionally. I am not a doctor, this is not medical advice, these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease, and your medical decisions are completely up to you. Also, it’s a good idea to discuss any herbs or home remedies you consider with your healthcare provider because some herbs can interact with certain medications. Okay, moving on!
What causes a urinary tract infection?
We all know the symptoms of a UTI – a burning feeling along with frequent urges to urinate, even when very little comes out. What’s less known is that about 90% of urinary tract infections can be traced back to one bacteria – E. coli. (2) (3)
Now, although there is a mutant strain of E. coli that occasionally makes headline news, most types of E. coli are either neutral toward us or beneficial when found in our digestive tract. When they migrate to our urinary tract, however, they can cause problems.
Urinary tract infections – also called bladder infections – happen when E. coli (or another bacteria/virus/yeast/pathogen) move up the urethra (the tube that empties urine out of the body) and into the bladder. If the infection isn’t addressed properly, it can also move into the kidneys.
Why Antibiotics May No Longer “Do The Trick” for Treating UTI’s
Unlike ear infections, which are usually viral and therefore not treatable with antibiotics, UTI’s are typically bacterial and therefore theoretically treatable. However, a recent article from St. Joseph Health concluded that antibiotics may no longer “do the trick” for treating UTI’s because drugs are becoming less effective. More on that below, along with other concerns to be aware of.
Concern #1: Antibiotics may increase the risk of future urinary tract infections
According to St. Joseph Hospital, “Doctors are noticing the old stand-by drugs aren’t as effective as in the past. In some cases, doctors have had to resort to two or three antibiotics to attack the problem. Others use older, less-effective antibiotics. Still others resort to inserting a catheter into patients’ arms to give antibiotics through a vein because the by-mouth medications aren’t working anymore.”
That’s because although antibiotics kill some of the pathogens that cause UTI’s, certain e. coli strains are resistant to antibiotics. When antibiotics are used, beneficial bacteria that can help keep those strains in check are killed off along with weaker e. coli strains. That may create an opportunity for the resistant strain to flourish, making future infections more likely . . . and possibly harder to treat.
‘It all boils down to the fact that there are just a few select options for treating UTIs,’ says Moses Mukai, DO, a board-certified OB/GYN and urogynecologist at St. Mary High Desert Medical Group. ‘And as infections become more resistant to current medications, the chances for real problems are amplified.’” (4)
Concern #2: Antibiotics may increase the risk of candida infection
As mentioned above, antibiotics kill pathogens along with beneficial microbes, including those that keep Candida in check. When its competition is eliminated candida thrives, and according to WebMD this can sometimes cause yeast infections. (5)
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, M.D. explains:
the era of antibiotics gave Candida albicans a special opportunity. The usual broad-spectrum antibiotics kill a lot of microbes in the body – the bad and the good. But they have no effect on Candida. So, after every course of antibiotics, Candida is left without anything to control it, so it grows and thrives.” (6)
Fortunately, it’s a myth that you can’t use probiotics to rebuild beneficial bacteria during a course of antibiotics. Though one or two (or even 20) strains won’t replenish all the diverse species that were originally present, it may be wise to replenish what you can. I use this probiotic, which has been shown to endure harsh stomach acid with a 100% survivability rate and also assists with antioxidant production in the gut.
Concern #3: Antibiotics alter the microbiome
In this New York Times article, bestselling author Michael Pollan explains how our internal microbiome – the estimated one hundred trillion microbes we each carry – affects human health:
for every human cell that is intrinsic to our body, there are about 10 resident microbes — including commensals (generally harmless freeloaders) and mutualists (favor traders) and, in only a tiny number of cases, pathogens.
To the extent that we are bearers of genetic information, more than 99 percent of it is microbial. And it appears increasingly likely that this ‘second genome,’ as it is sometimes called, exerts an influence on our health as great and possibly even greater than the genes we inherit from our parents. But while your inherited genes are more or less fixed, it may be possible to reshape, even cultivate, your second genome.”
Though it was once assumed that our gut flora eventually repopulated and balanced out after a round of antibiotics, Martin Blaser of New York University’s Langone Medical Center now says that – on some occasions – our microbiomes never fully recover from antibiotic use.
Sometimes they do, however it’s a concern to be aware because as Pollan explains:
Disorders in our internal ecosystem — a loss of diversity, say, or a proliferation of the ‘wrong’ kind of microbes — may predispose us to obesity and a whole range of chronic diseases, as well as some infections.”
The loss of our internal microbiome doesn’t just affect us, but future generations as well. When a mom gives birth, her microbiome is passed on as the baby moves through the birth canal. When her microbiome is affected, the one the child inherits is also affected.
That said, if a UTI was not quickly resolving with these methods, I would absolutely go see my doctor to make sure the infection doesn’t move into the kidneys. Because I have the MTHFR gene mutation certain antibiotics are contraindicated for me, so I have a list of ones to request ready just in case.
Fortunately, using remedies below that hasn’t been necessary!
Natural Home Remedies for UTI’s
When UTI symptoms hit, no one wants to wait for days or a week for supplements to arrive. That’s why I’ve only included remedies that you may already have on hand or can easily find at a local health food store.
1. Drink More Water
This one is not rocket science, but no list of UTI remedies is complete without it. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Drinking lots of fluid can help flush bacteria from your system. Water is the best. Most people should try for six to eight, 8-ounce glasses a day.” (1)
When E. coli moves into the urinary tract, it grabs onto the bladder wall with sticky “fingers” called fimbria. D-mannose – a naturally occurring sugar that is found in cranberries, blueberries and other fruits – is thought to help dislodge it by coating the fingers and disrupting attachment, thus allowing the bacteria to be flushed out. Chris Kresser, LAc, calls it “by far the most effective supplement for both treatment and prevention of UTIs.” Here’s what else he has to say:
D-mannose, even in large quantities, does not cause any adverse side effects, and cannot be metabolized the way other sugars can, meaning this supplement is safe for diabetics and others who are avoiding sugar for any reason. This treatment is also safe for children and the elderly. Symptom relief can be seen as quickly as the following day, and most symptoms are generally resolved after 48 hours of treatment. Additionally, taking D-mannose during a time where you feel you are most prone to UTIs, such as prior to intercourse or during prolonged antibiotic treatment, can help prevent a UTI from ever developing in the first place. This is especially helpful for those who are prone to chronic UTIs and want to be able to engage in normal life activities without fear of infection. (7)
Unlike antibiotics that harm beneficial bacteria, D-mannose is thought to be prebiotic, which is a substance that “may help your body by stimulating the growth of ‘good’ bacteria in your digestive system.” (8)
In one study, women who had a history of recurrent urinary tract infections were given either 2 grams of D-mannose, 50 milligrams of Nitrofurantoin (one of the preferred antibiotics for UTI’s), or no treatment. The D-mannose group had the lowest number of recurrent UTI’s (just 15%) compared to the antibiotic group (20%) and the no treatment group, which had a 60% rate of recurrent UTI. (9)
In another study, E. coli was introduced to the urinary tracts of rats and then some were given D-mannose. The rats who were given D-mannose eliminated the E. coli better than controls. (10)
Important note: According to Chris Kresser, “One caveat with D-mannose is that it is only effective with UTIs caused by E. coli infection. While this accounts for about 90% of cases, there are 10% that will not benefit from this treatment. In this case, supplements that help disrupt biofilms can be useful in treating and preventing UTIs.” (You can find a list of those in his article.)
I think Chris’ analysis is accurate for most cases, but I had a unique experience with my child. When his symptoms persisted after we began home remedies, I took him to see a doctor. (We were traveling so it wasn’t our regular pediatrician.)
After two urinalysis tests and a three-day culture, all came back negative for bacterial infection, the care provider and I jointly determined – based on his other symptoms – that he most likely had a UTI that was due to a virus or another pathogen not detected on the test. Interestingly, I stopped giving him D-mannose after the initial urinalysis said he didn’t have a bacterial infection and he became more uncomfortable, so I began giving it to him again and he became increasingly more comfortable and recovered without any additional intervention. Though there is not much information on the subject, some research suggests that D-mannose may in some cases provide support with viral illnesses as well. (11)
Tips for use: In Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide For Treating Health Problems With Natural Remedies, which was written James F. Balch, M.D., Mark Stengler N.M.D, and Robin Young Balch, N.M.D, it is suggested that adults “Take 500 mg four times daily.” It is usually recommended that individuals continue taking it 2-3 days after symptoms resolve.
What about cranberry or blueberry juice? I’m usually a fan of whole-food based supplements, but it’s typically recommended that individuals with UTI’s avoid sugar. Juice – even unsweetened – contains fructose that could feed unwanted bacteria, and for that reason, I personally would opt for D-mannose.
3. Vitamin C
According to Allen Douma, M.D., of the Chicago Tribune, “vitamin C has been shown to be effective in the prevention and self-care treatment of urinary-tract infections.” (12) When offering advice on preventing urinary tract infections, the Johns Hopkins Medicine health library states that “Large amounts of vitamin C limit the growth of some bacteria by acidifying the urine. Vitamin C supplements have the same effect.”
Tips for use: In Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide For Treating Health Problems With Natural Remedies, which was written James F. Balch, M.D., Mark Stengler N.M.D, and Robin Young Balch, N.M.D, it is suggested that adults “Take 1,000 mg four to five times daily.”
Note: Most vitamin C – even the stuff that says it is derived from something natural like sago palm – is synthetically produced. Personally, I opt for whole-food vitamin C supplements like acerola cherry powder or dried baobab fruit.
4. Uva Ursi
According to Penn State Medical Center, “Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi), also known as bearberry (because bears like eating the fruit), has been used medicinally since the 2nd century. Native Americans used it as a remedy for urinary tract infections. In fact, until the discovery of sulfa drugs and antibiotics, uva ursi was a common treatment for bladder-related infections.
Through modern-day scientific research in test tubes and animals, researchers have discovered that uva ursi’s ability to fight infection is due to several chemicals, including arbutin and hydroquinone. The herb also contains tannins that have astringent effects, helping to shrink and tighten mucous membranes in the body. In turn, that helps reduce inflammation and fight infection.
Today, uva ursi is sometimes used to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs) and cystitis (bladder inflammation). One preliminary study found that uva ursi, when combined with dandelion root and leaf, helped prevent recurrent UTIs.” (13)
Tips for use: In Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide For Treating Health Problems With Natural Remedies, which was written James F. Balch, M.D., Mark Stengler N.M.D, and Robin Young Balch, N.M.D, it is suggested that adults “Take a standardized extract of 250 mg of arbutin or 5 ml of the tincture form four times daily.” (Arbutin is converted into hydroquinone in the body. Hydroquinone is the component of uva ursi that is thought to be helpful for UTI’s.)
Penn State Medical Center states that “One of the chemicals in uva ursi, hydroquinone, can damage the liver. You should only take uva ursi for short periods, no longer than 5 days, under a health care provider’s supervision. You should not take a series of doses of uva ursi more than 5 times in 1 year. DO NOT take more than the recommended doses.”
Also, children and “Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people with high blood pressure, should not take uva ursi. People who have Crohn disease, digestive problems, kidney or liver disease, or ulcers should not take uva ursi.”
According to Herb Wisdom, “Because Uva Ursi requires alkaline urine for its antimicrobial properties to work, those taking Uva Ursi should avoid eating acidic foods like citrus, pineapple, tomato. Prescription drugs such as ammonium chloride, non-prescription products such as vitamin C, herbals such as rose hips, and foods such as cranberry juice may all make the urine more acidic in nature.” (14)
“Garlic extract may be an effective weapon against multi-drug resistant strains of pathogenic bacteria associated with urinary tract infections (UTI), according to a recent study published in the Pertanika Journal of Tropical Agricultural Science,” writes Science Daily.
Though the amount used was not mentioned, there are several garlic extracts sold at health food stores and online that have suggested usage guidelines.
According to John Mersch, MD, FAAP, one remedy that has shown to be safe and possibly effective in children is pineapple. He writes, “This fruit contains a chemical (bromelain) that reportedly possesses anti-inflammatory properties and thus reduces UTI symptoms.” (source)
Just as with cranberry juice, many individuals opt to use the supplement form because it is more concentrated and doesn’t contain sugar. When considering supplements, I wanted to pass along this information I found via C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital regarding the type that has been studied,
Taking bromelain during a UTI may enhance antibiotic effectiveness. The proteolytic enzymes, bromelain (from pineapple) and trypsin may enhance the effectiveness of antibiotics in people with a UTI. In a double-blind trial, people with UTIs received antibiotics plus either bromelain/trypsin in combination (400 mg per day for two days) or a placebo. One hundred percent of those who received the enzymes had a resolution of their infection, compared with only 46% of those given the placebo.26 This study used enteric-coated tablets. Enteric-coating prevents stomach acid from partially destroying the bromelain. Most commercially available bromelain products today are not enteric-coated, and it is not known if non-enteric coated preparations would be as effective.” (15)
7. Goldenseal & Echinacea
Though I was not able to find any studies to support their use, Goldenseal and Echinacea are both considered traditional remedies for urinary tract infections. Christopher Hobbs, Ph.D., LAc, A.H.G, calls these two herbs the “Dynamic Duo” and recommends them for UTI’s.
Tips for use: You can find Dr. Hobbs recommendations for using them here.
Honorable Mention: Probiotics
Though there are no studies that support the use of probiotics as a treatment for urinary tract infections, research suggests that probiotics may be helpful in reducing the incidence of recurring infections. (source)
According to Natalie Lamb Dip, NT, CNM, who serves as a technical advisor to Probiotics International Ltd.:
The ability of probiotic interventions in the management of UTIs has long been considered and is now supported by increasing clinical evidence for a growing number of specific strains. There is a close correlation between the loss of the normal genital microbiota, particularly Lactobacillus species, and an increased incidence of UTIs, therefore suggesting that repletion may be beneficial.”
Several probiotic supplements have been specially formulated to include strains that are thought to support urinary tract health. Fem-Dophilus is one of them. Also, a study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that probiotic suppositories were helpful in reducing recurrent UTIs.
Why I didn’t include baking soda
Baking soda lowers the pH of urine so that it doesn’t burn. Though pain relief is a good thing and possibly appropriate at times, some folks think it’s a better idea to raise pH and kill the pathogenic microbes rather than lower it and ease discomfort.
What if the UTI isn’t due to e. coli?
As I mentioned in the section above on D-mannose, my child continued to have UTI symptoms despite two urinalysis tests and a three-day urine culture coming back negative for bacteria. While waiting to see his pediatrician and discuss additional tests, I came across this article from Chris Kresser, LAc which addresses remedies for UTI’s that are not due to E. coli.
I ordered some of the supplements, but thankfully my child’s symptoms resolved the next day so I’m keeping them on hand in case they are needed in the future. They’re considered helpful for more than just UTI’s, and I’m glad I learned about them. I followed up with our pedi’s office about my suspicions that the UTI might be viral (which is not common) or due to another pathogen not detected on the test, and it was agreed that was most likely the case.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, and foods that may irritate your urinary tract (for some people this can be chocolate, for others, it might be spicy food)
- Wear loose clothing and cotton underwear.
When to see a doctor
According to the Urology Division of Louisiana Healthcare associates, you should call your doctor immediately if you have symptoms of a UTI. I make an appointment even while practicing watchful waiting (described below) because sometimes it can take a little while to get in. That way if it hasn’t cleared up in 1-2 days and an appointment is needed there isn’t a delay in getting in.
Here are their full recommendations:
“Call your doctor immediately if painful urination or other symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) occur with:
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Fever and chills.
- Pain in the flank, which is felt just below the rib cage and above the waist on one or both sides of the back, or lower belly pain.
Call your doctor immediately if you are pregnant and have symptoms of a UTI (listed above).
Call a doctor if you:
- Have had UTI symptoms previously and have those symptoms again.
- Have minor symptoms of a UTI that do not clear up in 1 to 2 days, such as pain or burning when you urinate, foul-smelling urine, or the urge to urinate frequently while passing only small amounts of urine.
- Notice blood or pus in your urine.
- Have symptoms of a UTI and you have diabetes.
Have been taking antibiotics for a UTI but your symptoms do not improve or they come back (recur) after improving temporarily.
Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach. If you get better on your own, you won’t need treatment. If you get worse, you and your doctor will decide what to do next.
In adults, home treatment for minor urinary tract infections (UTIs) often resolves the problem. Home treatment includes drinking plenty of water and urinating often, emptying the bladder each time.
- Try home treatment for 1 to 2 days if your symptoms are minor.
- If your symptoms last longer than 1 to 2 days or are severe, seek medical help.
Watchful waiting is not appropriate if you:
- Have diabetes or an impaired immune system.
- Are pregnant.
- Are older than 65.”
Do you have any favorite home remedies for UTI symptoms not mentioned above? Please share them in the comments below!
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Sources for this article:
1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Bladder Infection (Urinary Tract Infection—UTI) in Adults. Retrieved from NIH.gov
2. Johnson, JR et. al. Urinary tract infections in women: diagnosis and treatment. Retrieved from PubMed
3. Bryan, Charles. Infectious Disease: Urinary Tract Infections. Retrieved from MicrobiologyBook.org
4. St. Joseph Health. Antibiotics May No Longer Do The Trick For Treating UTI’s. Retrieved from STJHS.org
5. WebMD. What Are Vaginal Yeast Infections? Retrieved from WebMD
6. Campbell-McBride, Natasha. Gut & Psychology Syndrome
7. Kresser, Chris. ￼Treat and Prevent UTIs Without Drugs. Retrieved from Chris Kresser
8. WebMD. D-Mannose Uses & Risks. Retrieved from WebMD
9. Kranjcec, B et. al. D-mannose powder for prophylaxis of recurrent urinary tract infections in women: a randomized clinical trial.Retrieved from PubMed
10. Michaels, EK et. al. Effect of D-mannose and D-glucose on Escherichia coli bacteriuria in rats. Retrieved from PubMed
11. Hatanaka, Masakazu. Sugar Effects on Murine Sarcoma Virus Transformation. Retrieved from PNAS.org
12. Douma, Allen. Vitamin C can do battle with bladder infections. Retrieved from Chicago Tribune
13. Penn State Medical Center. Uva Ursi. Retrieved from Penn State Hershey
14. Herb Wisdom. Uva Ursi. Retrieved from HerbWisdom.com
15. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Bromelain. Retrieved from MottChildren.org