Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) are infections occurring in different parts of your urinary tract, including the bladder, urethra or kidneys. They’re very common and can affect anyone at any age, although you are more likely to get one if you’re a woman.
Laura Southern, nutritional therapist at London Gynaecology, told us:
“UTIs are caused by pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria. The bacteria might be a strain of E Coli which has made its way in the urinary tract, multiplied and caused an infection."
And because women have a shorter urethra than men, so it’s easier for bacteria to get to the bladder or kidneys and cause an infection.
It’s estimated that in the UK, around half of all women have had a UTI at some point in their lives- so what are the symptoms you need to look out for?
A painful, burning sensation when you pee is often a very good indicator that something ins’t quite right, and most women notice this symptom first. It might feel sharp or stinging too- either way, it’s not nice and it’s a sign that an infection may be occurring.
Lots of women also report needing to use the loo more often than usual too, sometimes feeling the urge to pee right after they’ve just been. Others report experiencing a sudden and urgent need to use the loo too.
Cloudy or Dark Urine
With a UTI, urine is usually much darker in colour, and sometimes cloudy too. You can have both or either of these symptoms.
In some cases, there may even be a small amount of blood in the urine- this should always be checked out because it’s important to rule out any other condition that might have caused the bleeding.
Urine With Strong Odour
Urine usually has a very faint, unnoticeable odour when you use the loo. With a UTI, it smells much stronger, with many women reporting a ‘foul’ odour.
Feeling of Incomplete Bladder Emptying
Another common symptom women report is the feeling of being unable to empty their bladder when they use the loo.
Pelvic pain is also a common symptom of a UTI, and lots of women also experience pain in the lower abdomen too.
UTI Treatment Without Antibiotics
UTIs are caused by a bacterial infection, but the good news is that most infections can be easily teated without antibiotics- and most doctors will recommend that you try other treatments before they prescribe. As Mrs Pradnya Pisal, consultant gynaecologist at London Gynaecology confirms:
“Yes- you can treat a UTI by ensuring good hydration, taking cranberry supplements and over the counter medicines. This will help relieve the symptoms when suffering with a UTI.”
So if you’re wondering how to get rid of a UTI, you can take steps at home to help yourself, which we’ll discuss below.
Dose Up Fluids
Staying hydrated is always important, but when you have a UTI, drinking plenty of water can actually help to flush away the bacteria from the urinary tract. Keep a bottle topped up throughout the day and set a reminder on your phone if you need to.
Some studies have shown that taking vitamin C may be effective in reducing the acidity of urine and killing the bacteria in the infection.
Although more research is probably needed, there is promise that this over-the-counter supplement can help, and it’s safe to take- always read the label to be sure of the recommended dose.
Unsweetened Cranberry Juice
Cranberry juice is one of the most well-known home remedies for tackling a UTI. It works by preventing bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract, and studies have found that by drinking a formulation of around 25% juice, UTI recurrence can be reduced by up to 50%.
Cranberry juice also contains lots of antioxidants, including polyphenols which are known to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which is handy when battling a UTI. You can also take it in capsule form, available over the counter.
Probiotics are another great way to treat a UTI at home. Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria that help to keep the urinary tract healthy and clear from ‘bad’ bacteria.
Laura Southern at London Gynaecology explains further:
“Like our digestive tracts, the vagina has its own 'microbiome' - colonies of bacteria which reside inside. There are fewer bacteria strains in the vagina than in the gut, the most common one is Lactobacillus. The microbiome of vaginas can become out of balance due to a number of reasons - diet, clothing, washing products, sex, hormones.
A healthy vaginal microbiome produces both lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide which should keep the vagina at a slightly acidic pH. This acidic environment can help prevent the growth of yeasts and pathogenic bacteria.
Probiotics which are designed to reach the vagina alive can be very useful for helping colonise the vagina with the right strains of bacteria. This can support the vaginal microbiome, ensure the pH is optimal and therefore help prevent bad bacteria and UTIs.
When choosing a probiotic to help prevent UTIs make sure it contains the Lactobacillus strains - look for names like Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus rhamanous, Lactobacillus gasseri, and check that they have been proven to reach the vagina alive.”
Probiotics can be found in supplement form or in fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, kombucha and probiotic yogurt. You can also take these in capsule form.
Because UTIs develop when bacteria is passed from the rectum or faeces, god hygiene habits are essential in preventing them from occurring or recurring.
Always go to the toilet when you need to, as holding it in can exacerbate the problem. This study looked at the links between infrequent bladder emptying and UTIs, and concluded that holding urine allows bacteria to multiply- so our advice is if you need to go, then go!
It’s also a good idea to always urinate after sex, wipe from front to back when using the loo (to prevent transferring of bacteria) and when you shower just use warm water and no perfumed soap down there. The NHS also recommends washing before and after sex and to keep the genital area clean and dry at all times.
Many women searching how to get rid of a UTI often come across conflicting advice- but there are some herbal remedies that have been shown to help.
D-manose is a natural occurring sugar that studies have found may be able to help prevent infectious bacteria from adhering to the cells in the urinary tract. This means that the bacteria is flushed out before an infection can develop, thus making it a good option for UTI prevention. D-mannose is found in a variety of foods, such as cranberries, apples and oranges- but it can be consumed as a tablet too.
Garlic is another natural remedy that is often used to treat a UTI; studies have found that its antibacterial properties are pretty effective in treating UTIs, where antibiotics have not been effective. The antimicrobial properties of garlic extract are thought to block the growth of bacteria, thus preventing infection from developing.
As already mentioned, cranberry juices and supplements are often used to treat UTIs and have found to be effective in prevention too. Anecdotally, many women regularly supplement with cranberry extract but more official studies are needed to properly understand how exactly this supplement can help.
How to Prevent UTI
The treatments listed above have all been found to be effective in preventing UTIs, if taken regularly. You can also speak to a pharmacist about over the counter treatments that might be helpful, and be sure to maintain good hygiene habits too.
The NHS recommends that in addition to the treatments we’ve discussed, you should also try to avoid wearing tight fitting underwear made from synthetic materials such as nylon. These fabrics aren’t breathable and can be a breeding ground for bacteria to grow. Luckily, WUKA period underwear is made using fully breathable materials that are also moisture wicking, so you stay nice and dry and infections are kept a bay- phew!
It’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol in excess, skip the sugary foods and drinks, and to avoid using condoms or other contraceptives that have spermicidal lube on them.
Signs Your UTI is Going Away
There are several studies that suggest most UTIs will go away by themselves, without the need for antibiotics. In fact, it’s suggested that up to 50% of most cases will go away on their own- which is great news.
Looking for signs your UTI is going away? If this is the case for you, you’ll notice that your symptoms are starting to ease and using the loo won’t cause as much pain or discomfort. You’ll probably notice you need to pee less often (although keep drinking plenty of water!) and your urine will start to become more clear again, with less of an odour. These are all good signs, so keep up with the treatments and monitor your symptoms daily.
When to See a Healthcare Professional
While minor UTIs can go away on their own, there are some occasions where it’s necessary to speak to a doctor for medial advice. Symptoms of a UTI should start to go away after a few days, but if they don’t your doctor will need to rule out other potential causes, or a course of antibiotics might be required.
If you develop a fever over 39.4, or you’re shaking, are experiencing chills, nausea, vomiting and/ or blood in your urine, seek medical attention straight away. Leaving a UTI untreated can lead to a more serious infection of the kidneys.
Infections in the upper urinary tract will also require medical attention; if you feel pain in your sides or back and experience any of the above symptoms along with confusion, agitation or restlessness, seek medical advice.