Here’s Why You Keep Getting UTIs (& What To Do)

If you find yourself dealing with frequent urinary tract infections, know you’re not alone.

UTIs are the second most common infection, according to Everyday Health, and account for millions of doctor visits annually. If you find yourself dealing with multiple UTIs—specifically, more than twice in a span of six months—this is considered a recurrent UTI. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that one in five women have a recurring UTI. So, how are you supposed to deal with what seem like non-stop infections? We’re here to help.

First of all, what is a UTI?

Essentially, a UTI is when bacteria enters the urinary tract, resulting in frequent trips to the bathroom or burning feeling when you pee.

"A UTI is an infection of the bladder or kidneys," says Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine. "When healthy, neither of these have bacteria in them, so an infection occurs when bacteria gets into the urethra, which connects the outside of the body to the bladder, and proceeds up the body into the bladder or kidney. UTIs are more common in the bladder, and more common in women."

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, symptoms of a UTI include:

  • Frequent urgency to pee

  • Burning sensation when you go

  • Pee that is tinted or has a strange odor

Why do you keep getting recurring UTIs?

1. You don’t pee when you should

A key factor in preventing a UTI is peeing. Basically, peeing is part of your body’s self-cleaning process (another reason why you shouldn’t be using hygiene products besides simple soap and water). It’s meant to flush out your urinary tract and get rid of harmful bacteria, like the kind that causes a UTI. Trying to hold it when you really have to go can result in a UTI.

2. You don’t drink enough water

Dehydration means infrequent trips to the bathroom, and then your body can’t execute its self-cleaning process. Drinking enough water everyday will keep harmful bacteria from infecting your urinary tract by keeping your peeing cycle regulated.

"Staying hydrated is always a good idea," says Gillespie. 

3. You don’t pee after sex

Again, peeing is a cleansing process!

"One of the easiest ways to prevent UTIs is to always urinate shortly after intercourse," says Gillespie. "Since UTIs happen when bacteria travels up the urethra and into the bladder (and the bacteria can be introduced with intercourse), think of this as a way to 'flush out the bacteria' before it has a chance to settle and create an infection."

Related: 5 Myths You Probably Still Believe About Your Vagina

4. You use scented feminine hygiene products

Since your body has its own self-cleaning plan, douches and deodorants are unnecessary. If you do use those products and they are scented, they can actually do your body more harm than good because they can mess with the balance of healthy and harmful bacteria. Plus, the fragrances can cause irritation.  

5. You wipe from back to front

This can transfer harmful bacteria towards your urinary tract instead of cleaning things up—so make sure you wipe from front to back.

6. You wear the wrong kind of underwear

Cotton underwear can help prevent recurring UTIs because it's a more lightweight and breathable material, so it isn’t super sweaty and gross down there.

7. You use the wrong kind of birth control

Sometimes the pill can be preferable to other forms of contraception. "Consider a new method of birth control if you use spermicide, particularly if you also use a diaphragm, as that may increase your risk of recurrent infection," Gillespie advises.

Treating a UTI

As soon as you experience any symptoms, head to your doctor to get tested so you can be prescribed an antibiotic.

"One thing I see is that women mistake another infection (such as a yeast infection or other condition) for a UTI, since they may have similar symptoms," Gillespie says. "However, they have very different treatments! So, especially if you have not had a UTI before, it's important to see your doctor to get tested, so you can get treated appropriately."

Recurrent UTIs can occur when the first one isn’t treated soon enough. Your usual family doctor or healthcare provider can treat a UTI. Do NOT wait to go to the doctor—UTIs can quickly progress into bladder infections. Regardless of what the internet tells you, cranberry juice will not cure your UTI! 

Preventing a UTI

Essentially, drink lots of fluids throughout the day to keep your urine flow consistent and flush out your urinary tract, so when you gotta go, go. Keep things clean down there with soap and water—nothing scented. Taking a probiotic can help regulate the balance between good and bad bacteria by boosting healthy bacteria that can then kill off any harmful bacteria. According to Women’s Health Specialists of California, eating acidic foods such as berries, citrus, and apples can also help prevent an infection.

And that urban myth that cranberry juice can prevent or treat a UTI? Not so much.

"When it comes to cranberry juice and cranberry products, there is not strong evidence that they help," Gillespie says.

UTIs may be uncomfortable to talk about, but they are even more uncomfortable (and even painful) to deal with. Taking precautions to keep your urinary tract healthy now will save you in more ways than one. If you're frequently dealing with UTIs, try the preventative measures suggested and try to determine the cause. Gillespie advises talking with your doctor if you continue to deal with a recurring UTI, as it may actually be something more serious, or you may be put on a preventative antibiotic.

Kansas City native with a love for reading, writing, Julie Andrews, and tea.

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