Of the many annoyances in life, few are worse than a urinary tract infection (more commonly known as a UTI). Sometimes a UTI can creep up seemingly out of nowhere; other times it's more obviously correlated with sex or irritation. Whatever the case, the symptoms associated with a UTI—frequent, urgent bathroom trips, constant discomfort, and sometimes full-blown pain—are pretty miserable.
Meet the Expert
- Yvonne Bohn, MD, is a board-certified ob-gyn at Santa Monica Women's Health. She specializes in hormone and contraceptive management, postmenopausal laser treatment, and minimally invasive gynecologic surgeries.
- Patty Ng, MD, FACOG, is a board-certified ob-gyn at 1060 OBGYN in New York. She is also one of the founders of Lady Bits, a luxury woman’s health product line.
Unfortunately, UTIs are incredibly common, especially among women: About 50 to 60 percent of women have had at least one. UTIs occur when the bacteria usually present on the skin or in the GI tract makes its way to the urethra, bladder, and/or kidneys. Because UTIs are bacterial infections, they’re treated with antibiotics. However, antibiotics can come with their own set of side effects: Anyone who’s ever gotten a yeast infection while trying to get rid of a UTI knows what we’re talking about. If you've had one, you’ve probably tried to cure your it naturally at one point or another. (Hey, we’re all guilty of downing a pint of sugary cranberry juice at some point). To find out if any natural measures provide a cure, we consulted Yvonne Bohn, MD, and Patty Ng, MD, FACOG, to get some definitive answers.
Keep scrolling to learn what they have to say about at-home remedies, the effectiveness of natural measures, and if it's possible to cure a UTI naturally.
Treat UTIs with Antibiotics
While it would be great to think you could get rid of a UTI with cranberry supplements and staying hydrated, antibiotics are the only real treatment if you have a UTI. “Unfortunately, if you have a urinary tract infection caused by bacteria, it needs to be treated with antibiotics,” says Bohn.
Your UTI will need to be diagnosed with a urine culture and by a doctor. If you’re starting to notice UTI-like symptoms, it’s important to get an appointment ASAP: If left untreated, UTIs can cause serious problems for the kidneys.
Make an Appointment
If you can’t get an appointment today, don't worry just yet. Consider your symptoms, and while it's always a good idea to see a doctor regarding a UTI, sometimes it is possible to avoid a trip over.
"For a mild UTI in a healthy person, increasing hydration and making sure you empty your bladder often sometimes will clear on its own," Ng says, "But for pregnant women or immunocompromised patients, it might not be ideal to try to treat a UTI without medication." You can also contact your primary care physician. Now more than ever, doctor-related visits are being conducted online. "You can call your PCP if you have symptoms and they might be able to prescribe you antibiotics without an in-person visit," Ng says, "But if the antibiotics don’t resolve the symptoms, you might be required to have an in-person evaluation."
If you can't get to a doctor any time soon, there are other ways to help alleviate the symptoms associated with a UTI in the interim. “Pyridium, a medication that relaxes the bladder and reduces irritation from the bacteria, will help with the pain,” Bohn says, “But it doesn’t eradicate the bacteria!”
Pyridium-based tablets like AZO Urinary Pain Relief ($11) or Cystex Urinary Pain Relief ($8) do help alleviate symptoms but, again, do not actually solve the issue. You must take antibiotics to clear up a serious UTI, and Ng recommends calling your doctor within a two day period if these symptoms don't stop.
Look Into Probiotics
If you’re worried about getting a yeast infection while on antibiotics, try taking a probiotic containing Lactobacillus— a good bacteria that already exists within the digestive system. Or just replenish your good bacteria by adding a little yogurt to your diet. But more on that later.
If you don’t have a true UTI—meaning you suspect one is coming on, but it hasn’t developed into a full-fledged infection just yet—there are some steps you can take to try to stop it in its tracks before antibiotics become necessary. “Drink lots of water, and avoid alcohol and caffeine,” Bohn suggests. “Urinating frequently can help flush some of the bacteria out of the bladder.”
Use Natural Preventative Measures
While you may not be able to cure a UTI naturally, there are actions you can take to stop UTIs from happening at all, and those are 100 percent natural. You’ve probably heard that peeing after sex is a good idea, and it is—but it’s a good idea to pee before sex, too, to get rid of any built-up bacteria ahead of time. And if you get the urge to go, don’t hold it in! Holding your urine for too long encourages bacteria to multiply.
Ng recommends "Taking cranberry pills, avoid having a full bladder, increasing hydration, clean genitals prior to intercourse or using protection, avoid wiping back to front," are all measures that can help prevent a UTI.
Try Different Supplements
Certain types of supplements can help with UTI prevention, too. While Dr. Ng notes that there is limited data to support using supplements as a preventative measure, there are supplements on the market that women have found success with. One great option is Uqora, a UTI prevention company that uses natural ingredients to prevent UTIs using a drink mix and supplements that promote a balanced vaginal pH and break up “biofilm,” a tool bacteria hides in. You can get the complete set for $52.
Love Wellness’s “UTI Don’t Think So” ($15) is another top-notch supplement with a really catchy name. Developed by a urogynecologist, it’s formulated with proanthocyanidins (PAC), an ingredient that’s proven to help maintain a healthy urinary tract.
Proanthocyanidins are known as the chemical compounds that give fruit, flowers, and plants their red, purple or blue coloring. Acting as a powerful antioxidant, proanthocyanidins support daily health and are known to protect the heart and the cardiovascular system.
Use Cranberry Supplements
“Take probiotics that support good bacteria in [the] vagina—I recommend Florajen Women,” Bohn says. “And try taking a supplement with cranberry, as cranberry helps to prevent the bacteria from adhering to the urethra. I recommend my patients take Cystex Urinary Health Maintenance; one tablespoon every day helps maintain your urinary health.”
If the bacteria can’t stick to the urethra, she explains, they’re less likely to enter the bladder, multiply, and cause a UTI. So while you can’t cure a full-fledged UTI naturally, there are a lot of solid, natural ways to stop one from happening in the first place. Why not try it? Here’s to a happy, healthy urinary tract.
Know Your Facts
The reason antibiotics work is that they kill bacteria that is present in the urine. Ng notes that no current evidence demonstrates that natural-based solutions will get rid of the bacteria the same way an antibiotic will.
While certain preventative measures do help in keeping you UTI-free, if you are experiencing symptoms, scheduling a visit with your doctor and starting a round of antibiotics will surely cure you of this uncomfortable infection. We wish you all the luck and now that you know the facts, go forth with the knowledge that UTIs, while frustrating, are curable with antibiotics and can be prevented through various natural measures.