Fact-Checked By: Dr. Noor Ali, MD, MPH, CPH
Chances are, if you’re a woman, you’ve probably had a UTI at some point in your life. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. UTIs are completely normal, and your sexual health is nothing you should ever feel ashamed or embarrassed about.
In fact, at least half of all women contract a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point in their lifetime, and at least one in three women will have a UTI that needs antibiotics before she turns 24. And if you’ve been lucky enough to be UTI-free, here’s a spoiler: A burning sensation when you pee is a clear indicator that you have a UTI. Sometimes, it can be a little annoying, but it can also be extremely painful, like my-vagina-is-on-fire painful.
The good news is that UTIs can be easily treated with antibiotics. In the meantime, here’s everything you need to know about UTIs to find some much-needed relief from your symptoms.
What Is A Urinary Tract Infection?
A urinary tract infection is an infection of the urinary tract system. It can affect any part of your urinary tract system, including your urethra, bladders, and kidneys. Some common UTI symptoms include:
- Always feeling like you have to pee
- Peeing, but very little—even if you feel like your bladder is full
- An uncomfortable or burning sensation when you pee
- Pressure in your pelvis
- Changes to your pee (i.e., cloudy pee, drops of blood, or an unusual smell)
Why Do UTIs Happen?
According to the New York Times, sexual activity is the most important risk factor for UTIs in young women. Needless to say, there’s a lot of moving around that occurs during sex.
UTIs happen when microbes from the anus or vagina (where naturally occurring bacteria live) travel to the urinary tract and bladder. When these bacteria move up the urethra, they can cause infections in the bladder and other parts of the urinary tract.
What Should You Do If You Have A UTI?
If you think you have a UTI, it’s time to schedule a doctor’s appointment. It might be tempting to skip your OB/GYN appointment altogether when you can just pick up over-the-counter treatment, but drugstore UTI medication should not replace an actual doctor’s appointment.
First, most OTC pills contain phenazopyridine, which can soothe that burning sensation when you pee—but it’s not an alternative to antibiotics. Plus, when you consider that only 25–42 percent of uncomplicated UTIs clear up without antibiotics, it’s definitely worth a trip to the doctor.
Second, there’s always a chance your symptoms might not actually be related to a UTI (and, no, drugstore testing kits aren’t 100% accurate). If you’re picking up UTI medication for a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or an STI, you might make your symptoms even worse.
At your doctor’s office, they’ll run a urinalysis (similar to drugstore test trips), but they’ll also send the urine for a urine culture, which can’t be done over the counter. This way, your doctor can pinpoint the exact bacterial source, so you can get treatment with the proper antibiotics.
Home Remedies For UTIs
By now, you should know that the best way to treat your UTI is to talk to your doctor, where you can get a prescription for antibiotics. In the meantime, head to your local drugstore to pick up some painkillers. AZO, an over-the-counter painkiller, can help ease the burning sensation that comes with urination.
Hydration is also key in preventing and treating UTIs. Water helps your urinary tract remove waste from your body while retaining the nutrients and electrolytes you need to feel your best. It also helps dilute urine, making it harder for harmful bacteria to reach cells lining the urinary organs.
While we’re on the subject, make sure you’re peeing as soon as the urge arises. It can help reduce the amount of time the bacteria in the urine are exposed to your urinary tract, lowering your risk of infection. Peeing before and immediately after sex is also a great way to practice good sexual hygiene, which can help lower the number of bacteria that reach your urinary tract during intercourse.
And even though cranberry juice won’t cure your UTI, it can help alleviate some uncomfortable symptoms. "Cranberry juice can make your urine more acidic, which helps to decrease the likelihood of more bacteria forming," according to Kelly M. Kasper, M.D., OB/GYN at Indiana University Health
It’s also a tasty way to flush the harmful bacteria out of your system. Some other home remedies to help relieve uncomfortable symptoms and prevent future UTIs include:
- Boost your vitamin C intake. Studies show that boosting your vitamin C intake can help prevent UTIs. Vitamin C increases the acidity of urine, which helps kill off the harmful bacteria that cause UTIs.
- Curl up with your heating pad. UTIs can cause burning, pressure, and pain around the vagina and pubic area, which can leave you writhing in pain while you’re waiting for the painkillers to kick in. Fortunately, applying a heating pad can help soothe the discomfort.
- Cut bladder irritants out of your diet. When you’re dealing with a UTI, bladder irritants (like coffee, alcohol, and spicy food) can make your symptoms worse, making it harder for your body to recover.
- Make healthier lifestyle choices. Your lifestyle choices matter, especially when it comes to your urinary tract system. Making healthy changes, whether that’s a bigger change like quitting smoking or something smaller like wearing breathable underwear, can help you recover from your UTI more quickly and prevent future infections.
Make Health Your #1 Priority
Whether you’re dealing with UTI symptoms for the first time or struggling with recurrent UTIs, don’t hesitate to call your doctor. Your health is so, so important—and taking care of yourself is never anything to feel ashamed or embarrassed about.