Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are never fun. The symptoms of a UTI—frequent, urgent, and painful urination—are experienced at some point by 40 percent of women. But why do we frequently get these infections? And how can they be prevented and treated? Maven OB-GYN Carol Russell, DO, explains.

What’s a UTI?

“Under normal circumstances, your urine is sterile and has no bacteria in it,” Russell says. But if bacteria makes its way into your urinary tract, you’ve got the beginnings of a UTI. UTIs can cause all sorts of symptoms, including pelvic pain, a persistent need to urinate, pain while urinating, and bloody urine.If left untreated, UTIs can lead to serious health issues. Most UTIs don’t get to that point, but it’s important to know to take UTIs seriously.

How do you get a UTI?

There are a variety of ways that bacteria might make its way to your urethral opening. Sex can move bacteria around, as can wiping from back to front, instead of front to back, when you’re using the bathroom. Wearing a pad, wet bathing suit, or other damp or unclean covering for long periods of time could also contribute, as can certain types of birth control, such as diaphragms, Russell says. It’s also possible for UTIs to happen when diaphragms are inserted incorrectly, causing a kink in the urethra.

How can I prevent UTIs?

You can protect yourself from UTIs by: 

  • Staying hydrated 
  • Peeing after sex 
  • Practicing good hygiene, including wiping well after going to the bathroom and showering regularly 

A lot of people point to cranberry juice as a cure for UTIs, but the research on this is mixed. It’s unclear how much cranberry juice would be needed to make a difference. That being said, drinking cranberry juice (the pure stuff, not the sugary juice cocktail) certainly won’t hurt, and can help you stay hydrated.

What should I do if I have a UTI?

UTIs are best treated with prescribed antibiotics. Some doctors may prescribe antibiotics for a UTI without requiring an in-person visit. But to get the best treatment for your specific infection, it can help to get a test done to determine what bacteria is causing your UTI. If you get recurrent UTIs (think more than three in one year), you may need additional treatment, such as antibiotics to take after sex. Talk with your healthcare provider about treatment options if you experience recurrent UTIs.

What should I do if I get a UTI while pregnant?

If you get a UTI while pregnant, it’s even more important to get prompt treatment, since an undiagnosed UTI can lead to preterm labor or other pregnancy risks. Pregnant people are more prone to UTIs than other groups, Russell says, but luckily, the antibiotics that treat UTIs are completely safe to use during pregnancy.

How Maven can help 

If you’re feeling the pain of a UTI, you’re not alone. You have free (yes, free) access to Maven, the world’s largest virtual clinic for women and families. With Maven, you can access providers and resources who can help. 

Maven can help you: 

  • Find 24/7 support with top-rated providers like OB-GYNs for any reproductive healthcare need, including UTIs, yeast infections, and more
  • Learn more about how to prevent and treat UTIs with a library of clinically-vetted content
  • Create a Care Plan for your treatment with your dedicated Care Advocate

Check to see if you have free access to Maven today!

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