So, you have a urinary tract infection. You’re not alone. UTIs account for almost 25% of all bacterial infections in women, and 50-60% will have at least one UTI in their lifetime. (People with penises can also develop UTIs, but people with vaginas get them more frequently because our urethras are shorter, meaning bacteria can travel to the bladder more easily.)
Although they’re common and usually not serious, UTIs require prescription antibiotics to treat, so head to your doctor to get your diagnosis and your meds. If you leave your UTI untreated, the infection can spread to your kidneys and cause damage. However, along with taking your meds, there are a few things you can do at home to help alleviate symptoms and speed up recovery.
“Most symptoms will clear up within 24 to 48 hours of starting antibiotics, but anyone who’s had a UTI knows those first 24 hours can be the worst,” Jenna Ryan, CEO & Co-Founder of Uqora tells Refinery29. Here’s how to get through them.
Take a pain reliever
Along with taking your meds, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as Tylenol or Motrin. You can also take a phenazopyridine — a pain reliever that targets the urinary tract — such as Azo. “If you’ve taken it, you know it can turn your urine Gatorade orange, but if you haven’t, it’s good to know that so you can expect it and not be completely freaked out when it happens,” Ryan warns.
Drink lots of water
Although a UTI makes it hurt to pee, drinking lots of water and peeing frequently will make peeing less painful and help speed your recovery along. “Focus on staying super hydrated,” Ryan says. “You’ll keep flushing out the urinary tract.”
Avoid foods and drinks that can irritate your bladder
Be kind to your urethra and stay away from sex while you're recovering from your UTI. If you're prone to UTIs, it may make your infection worse. And even if you're not prone to UTIs, sex will likely be painful. "It's better to wait until your UTI has been completely treated, you have finished the complete course of antibiotics, and you don’t have any more symptoms" before having sex again, Doreen Chung, MD, a specialist in female urology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, previously told Refinery29.
Try cranberry... if you want
Cranberry juice is an often-suggested home remedy for UTIs, but it's not a cure-all. Cranberries contain A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs) and the simple sugar D-Mannose, both of which may help with UTI recovery, though research isn’t conclusive. One review of cranberry trials found that there is some evidence that cranberry juice may help prevent UTIs for people who have recurrent UTIs, though not for others. Cranberry capsules contain a higher concentration of these ingredients than cranberry juice, and some studies have indicated they may be more helpful than cranberry juice.
“My perspective is that it’s one of those topics where you can choose a study to corroborate your perspective on it either way, because there is so much conflicting research,” Ryan says. Drinking cranberry juice or taking a cranberry supplement won’t hurt, so you can decide if it’s worth a try — in addition to taking antibiotics.
Finish your antibiotics
Even if you feel better before you’re done taking your antibiotics, you should finish the full course to make sure that the UTI bacteria is all gone. “If you don’t, some bacteria can remain, which can lead to recurring infections and might make it more difficult to use the same antibiotics to treat future UTIs,” Ryan says.
See your doctor if symptoms remain
If you’re still seeing UTI symptoms after 48 hours, check in with your doctor. Ryan points out that some strains of UTIs are becoming antibiotic-resistant, so you may need to try a different kind of antibiotic. When you go in for your initial UTI diagnosis, make sure your doctor takes a urine sample (which they should be doing anyway) so they can tell which bacterial strain is causing your UTI.
Think about future prevention
After you’ve recovered, make a plan to prevent future UTIs. Ryan suggests taking a probiotic to restore your vaginal microbiome, because while your antibiotics kill off UTI bacteria, they also kill off the good bacteria that helps prevent yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. If you have recurrent UTIs, your doctor may suggest taking a low-dose antibiotic regularly or using a UTI prevention product like Uqora’s. Even if this was your first UTI, taking preventative actions such as wiping correctly, peeing after sex, and staying hydrated is always a good idea.