Home Remedies for Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Even a mild urinary tract infection can send us running to the bathroom every ten minutes, praying for relief and cursing our wretched bladders. While antibiotics are the best way to treat a UTI, there are some home remedies that can both dull the pain and help with that gotta-go-now feeling.
Most antibiotics will take a few days to work, so home remedies are the best way to get through the waiting period. Antibiotics are also more effective when combined with other treatments like flushing, cranberry juice or supplements, and adequate hydration.
Signs and Symptoms of UTI
The most common signs and symptoms of a urinary tract infection, sometimes called a bladder infection, include:
- A frequent urge to urinate, with very little coming out
- Burning or painful urination
- Blood in the urine
- Lower abdominal or lower back pain
A doctor will normally do a urinalysis to test for a UTI, but will sometimes diagnose them based on symptoms, especially for frequent sufferers. The best way to treat UTIs are with antibiotics, as UTIs gone untreated can affect the kidneys and have serious health implications. But while you're waiting to see the doctor, or until the antibiotics start working their magic, try these simple tips for quick relief.
Cranberry juice is one of the oldest ways of treating bladder infections, and the best option for quick relief. It works not because cranberries kill infection-causing bacteria, but because cranberries change the PH of the bladder and urinary tract. The PH that results from drinking cranberry juice makes it difficult for germs and bacteria to stick to the bladder walls. The bacteria that are causing the infection then get washed right out the door.
Cranberry juice is most effective in mass quantities. Treating a UTI with cranberry juice will mean a good sized bottle or two in the fridge. For best results, alternate one glass of water for one glass of juice for a couple of days.
Caution: Cranberries are naturally incredibly bitter, and a lot of brands compensate for that by adding sugar or high fructose corn syrup, which can make the infection worse. Always buy a juice that is labeled as 100% juice, and check the ingredients to watch out for sugar and fructose. Blended juices are fine, most cranberry juices that don't include sugar are sweetened naturally by apple juice or another sweeter fruit.
Cranberry supplements are a great alternative for people who can't stomach the juice. Available in the vitamin section of most drugstores, they are cheaper in the long run than buying juice. Even if you are drinking copious amounts of cranberry juice, a few of the supplements with a glass of water won't hurt.
Many women who have chronic UTIs find that taking a cranberry pill or two a day help to ward off the infections. At the first sign of bladder discomfort, a healthy dosing of cranberry pills can often stave off the infection, making the trip to the doctor unnecessary.
While cranberry helps to get the bad bacteria out, a good old flushing of the system is essential to the recovery process. Just like cleaning out your sink, a good stream of water is preferable to a dribble. Many doctors even tell patients that flushing still has to be done even with an antibiotic treatment.
Flushing is pretty simple. Just drink a LOT of fluids. The more the better, so go ahead and chug. While the first instinct with a bladder infection is to make repeated trips to the bathroom, it actually helps to space them out a little. Drink a large glass of water or cranberry juice, then force yourself to wait 20 minutes to half an hour before using the bathroom.
It will be a lot less painful to pee if your body actually has something to get rid of. A full bladder signaling that its ready for a trip to the bathroom is actually less uncomfortable than the fake-out of an empty, irritated bladder. An empty bladder spasming up on itself is a feeling most of us wouldn't wish on a worst enemy.
Ibuprofin, the active ingredient in Advil and Motrin, can help. UTIs cause the muscles in the bladder to contract and spasm, causing pain and sometimes nausea. Because ibuprofin, unlike aspirin or Tylenol is a mild muscle relaxer, it will cause the bladder to relax as well. Even if you are feeling nauseous from a bladder infection, ibuprofin taken with a little bit of food will usually help. Generics are equally as effective as name brands.
What to Avoid
Part of the recovery process for a UTI means avoiding things that are going to aggravate the bladder and make the condition worse. Things to avoid:
- Sex - Sex is one of the main culprits for UTIs. Women should always make a habit of peeing after intercourse, even if it is only a few drops. Intercourse tends to push bacteria into the urethra, which causes infection. Having sex when you have a UTI can cause uncomfortable pressure on an already sensitive area, so its best to wait until you are feeling better.
- Sugar - Any sugar that is ingested, whether through eating or drinking, is present in the urine. Sugar is a breeding ground for bacteria, so it is extremely important to avoid any sugar when you have a UTI. Women who are prone to frequent UTIs may want to reduce the amount of sugar in their diets, and avoid beverages that are high in sugar.
- Caffeine and Alcohol - Both of these are dehydrating, which is one of the worst things for a UTI. Both caffeine and alcohol should be avoided until symptoms subside. If you can't bear the thought of giving up your morning coffee, at least go easy, maybe one cup instead of the usual two or three. Try to drink a full glass of water before drinking coffee to get a jump start on hydration, and skip the sugar.
- Heavy Lifting - Lifting something even as heavy as a basket of laundry can put stress and pressure on the bladder. Try to take it easy for a few days. Remember that your body is fighting off an infection and needs as much rest as possible. Avoid working out, housework, or any other strenuous activity.
The Importance of Proper Treatment
It is of the utmost importance to consult a doctor for a urinary tract infection. While a slight twinge or minor irritation might not warrant an office visit, frequent urges to use the bathroom, cramping, especially of the lower back, and inability to urinate can be symptoms of a serious infection. If untreated, kidney damage can occur. While home remedies can be helpful, they should never be used as a substitute for appropriate medical care.