Urinary tract infections are the bane of women (and some men!) everywhere. If you’ve ever had one, you understand the horrifying feeling of urgently having to pee and not being able to, of weird-smelling or cloudy urine and a painful burning sensation while you go.
And if you haven’t had one, you’re just plain lucky. Because women’s urethras are shorter and located closer to the anus, it’s much easier for bacteria to travel to the bladder, putting women at a much higher risk for developing infections. More than half of women will experience a UTI in their lifetimes, and many will have recurrences. In fact, besides the cold and flu, urinary tract infections are the most common health complaint among reproductive-aged women.
We understand that diagnosing UTIs can be a pain, and other conditions — such as painful bladder syndrome, passing a kidney stone and sexually transmitted infections — can have similar symptoms. So here’s a handy chart to determine whether you should head to the doctor’s office immediately:
How to prevent urinary tract infections
You may know to rush to the doctor for much-needed antibiotics, but do you know what a urinary tract infection actually is? And even more importantly, how can you avoiding getting one in the first place?
A UTI is technically an infection of the bladder or kidneys, Dr. Mamta Mamik, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told The Huffington Post.
As long as the infection is contained in the bladder and doesn’t travel to the kidneys or spread throughout the blood stream, it’s not a serious condition, Mamik said. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore it or rely on unproven at-home remedies.
If you suspect that you’re suffering from an infection, you should see your doctor ASAP for a urine culture test, and if you suffer from chronic UTIs, you might want to see a specialist about it.
To avoid getting a UTI in the first place, Mamik recommends eating a healthy probiotic-rich diet and drinking plenty of water, plus making sure you’re getting enough vitamin C.
Frequent sex, unfortunately, is a common risk factor. Sex can push bacteria from the anus into the urethra, which explains the old-timey euphemism for UTIs: “honeymoon cystitis.”
Drinking plenty of water to dilute your urine, wiping from front to back after going to the backroom, and peeing immediately after sex can help reduce your UTI risk, according to the Mayo Clinic.