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How to treat a UTI at home, and prevent one from occurring in the first place

INSIDER logoINSIDER 21-05-2020 insider@insider.com (Laura Goldman)

Editor's note: The claims made in this article are as published by our content partner and not endorsed by Microsoft News or Microsoft. Always check with your doctor before making any changes to your health routine.

One of the most common bacterial infections is a urinary tract infection, or UTI. If left untreated, a UTI can develop into serious health problems, such as a kidney infection. 

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To treat the UTI, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic, including: 

  • Bactrim (trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole) 
  • Keflex (cephalexin)
  • Monurol (fosfomycin)

However, antibiotics can also increase bacterial resistance, and in some cases, your doctor may recommend that you can safely and effectively treat a UTI at home, without antibiotics. 

Here's how to tell if you have a UTI and when it's OK to treat one at home.

a woman in a red shirt: It's not always possible to treat a UTI at home, but you can reduce your risk with natural remedies. Yuttana Jaowattana/Shutterstock © Yuttana Jaowattana/Shutterstock It's not always possible to treat a UTI at home, but you can reduce your risk with natural remedies. Yuttana Jaowattana/Shutterstock

UTI symptoms

This painful infection occurs when bacteria, usually Escherichia coli (E. coli), enter the urinary tract through the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of your body. 

 These are some of the common symptoms of a UTI:

  • A constant urge to urinate
  • Pain or a burning sensation while urinating
  • Only being able to urinate small amounts
  • Cloudy or strong-smelling urine
  • Pressure in your pelvic area

It's important to see a doctor if your symptoms persist for more than 48 hours, or if you have a fever, back pain, or blood in your urine. 

Both men and women can get a UTI. However, it's more common in women because they have shorter urethras, making it easier for bacteria to reach their bladders. In fact, almost half of all women will have at least one UTI in their lifetime.

Can you treat a UTI without antibiotics? 

If you're experiencing the symptoms of a UTI, you should always check in with your doctor first. 

Because they're at higher risk for complications, men and pregnant women should never try to treat a UTI at home, according to Rena Malik, M.D., a urologist and director of female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

But for some women with no other serious health problems, it can be possible to treat a UTI at home, without antibiotics. For instance, mild or uncomplicated UTIs may clear out of the bladder naturally, as a strong immune system can help resolve these infections. 

To boost your immune system and help reduce your risk of severe UTIs, it's important to stay well-hydrated and incorporate essential vitamins and nutrients into your diet. And while these methods won't treat your UTI as effectively as antibiotics after it's occured, they can help prevent future ones from occurring. 

Drink lots of water 

Drinking water and staying hydrated can help prevent and treat a UTI. This dilutes your urine so you'll pee more frequently, helping to flush out the bacteria that's causing your infection. 

"We recommend that all our patients who have recurrent UTIs drink about 2 to 3 liters of fluid per day," Malik says. "This can include water, flavored water, and non-caffeinated beverages."

For example, a study of 141 girls from three to 18 years old showed that inadequate fluid intake and infrequent urination were linked to recurrent UTIs.

You should also avoid drinking fluids that could irritate your bladder and worsen symptoms, such as alcohol and caffeinated beverages.

Consume cranberries 

There is some evidence that cranberries may help prevent UTIs. That's because they contain proanthocyanidins (PACs), which may stop bacteria from sticking to your urinary tract lining.

One study found that it's most effective to consume 36mg of cranberry PAC daily to help prevent a UTI. 

"You can drink a very concentrated juice that's 100% cranberry with no sugar added, or you can take a capsule or tablet that has that dosing in it," Malik says. 

However, she warns that many cranberry juices contain a lot of sugar but not enough PAC, and many cranberry supplements don't contain enough PAC to be effective — so make sure you know what kind of cranberry products you're consuming. 

For reference, an 8-ounce (240-milliliter) serving of an Ocean Spray cranberry juice drink has about 33 to 36mg of PACs, according to a 2017 article in the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) Journal.

In pics: 8 most common causes of UTIs (Slideshow by Prevention)


Get vitamin C 

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) may increase the acidity of your urine, which can help kill the bacteria causing your UTI. There have been few studies, with mixed results, on whether vitamin C is effective for preventing UTIs.

In one study, pregnant women who took 100mg of vitamin C daily for three months had significantly fewer UTIs than pregnant women who didn't take vitamin C. However, in another study, participants with spinal cord injuries who took 2,000mg of vitamin C daily did not have fewer UTIs than participants who didn't increase their vitamin C intake.

"[Vitamin C] certainly won't hurt you in a short period of time, but if you're taking it over a long period of time, you should discuss that with your doctor," Malik says. 

Fruits and vegetables especially high in vitamin C include oranges, grapefruit, and red bell peppers. You can also take a vitamin C supplement.

Try probiotics 

Probiotics are microorganisms that help balance the "bad" bacteria that can cause infections in your body, such as E. coli, with the "good" bacteria that assist in digesting food properly. 

In addition, the probiotic strain lactobacillus may help prevent UTIs by stopping the bad bacteria from adhering to your urinary tract. That's because lactobacillus produces antibacterial hydrogen peroxide, which makes it difficult for certain bacteria to survive. 

Lactobacillus is available in supplements. It's also found in yogurt and fermented foods such as kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut.

In one small study, lactobacillus was found to be effective in preventing UTIs in premenopausal women. But another review didn't find enough evidence to recommend its use.  

Malik says "the jury is still out" on how effective probiotics are for preventing UTIs, and you should talk with your doctor to see if using them could be right for you. 

The bottom line

These at-home remedies may help prevent or treat a UTI, as long as your doctor deems them safe for you. 

Additionally, there are a few general lifestyle behaviors you can practice to help prevent UTIs before they occur, including: 

  • When you feel like you have to urinate, go — don't hold it.
  • After urinating and especially after a bowel movement, wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria from entering your urethra.
  • Urinate before and after having sex.
  • Avoid using scented soaps, bubble baths, or douches.
  • Don't wear tight pants.

If you do experience the symptoms of a UTI, it's important to check in with your doctor before attempting to treat it yourself. Together, you can determine whether you'll need antibiotics, or if you can treat your UTI at home. 

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