Dear Sexpert,

Help! I think I have a UTI — when I woke up this morning and went to the bathroom, there was a burning sensation when I peed, and now I feel like I have to go to the bathroom constantly. What can I do to treat the UTI I have now and prevent getting one again in the future?

—Toilet Tormented

Dear Toilet Tormented,

I’m sorry to hear you’re in pain! Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, certainly aren’t fun. However, they are easily treated and quite preventable, so you are asking the right questions! 

UTIs are bacterial infections of the urinary tract (most commonly the urethra and bladder), but severe infections may spread to the kidneys as well. To prevent this spread, it is important to see a doctor as soon as symptoms arise to get treatment. Symptoms include a persistent urge to urinate, a burning sensation when urinating, and only being able to urinate small amounts. Unusual looking urine, including urine that is cloudy, off-colored (red, pink, or brown), and strong smelling can also be a sign of infection. Pelvic pain can also occur in more severe cases. They are most common in individuals with female genitalia, as the urethra is closer to the anus and the bladder. However, the same symptoms and treatment plan are appropriate for individuals with male genitalia. 

A diagnosis is usually confirmed with a bacterial culture — this just requires urinating in a cup, like a normal doctor’s visit. A prescription of antibiotics should clear the infection in about a week or more. Symptoms usually go away within a couple of days, but remember to continue taking the antibiotics for the prescribed amount of time! Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to flush out the bacteria. It is a common misconception that drinking cranberry juice treats or prevents UTIs. Only antibiotics can cure them, and although for most people there does not seem to be harm in drinking cranberry juice, there is no conclusive evidence that it helps with this type of infection. To alleviate pain, avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol, or citrus, which can irritate the bladder. Application of a heating pad on the abdomen can also help with discomfort. A medication called Phenazopyridine can also be taken to alleviate symptoms, but this is not a treatment and it is not a substitute for antibiotics. It is sold over the counter at pharmacies, but check first with your prescribing healthcare provider about any interactions it might have with the antibiotics or any other medications you are taking. Also, try not to be alarmed if it makes your urine turn bright orange — that is a common side effect! 

Going forward, there are several steps you can take to prevent UTIs. After using the bathroom, wiping from front to back is the best way to prevent the movement of bacteria towards the urethra. Urinating after sexual activity is also crucial for flushing out bacteria from the urethra. Using a diaphragm (contraceptive dome-shaped cup you insert into the vagina to prevent semen from entering the uterus during sex) can also lead to infection, as it should be used with spermicide to be most effective. If you are a diaphragm user who is prone to frequent UTIs, it might be worth considering a different birth control method. Finally, irritating products with fragrances, such as douches, feminine washes, or deodorizing sprays, can contribute to inflammation and infection; when cleansing your genital area, use only gentle, fragrance-free soap. 

Make an appointment at McCosh Health Center to diagnose your symptoms and if necessary, get you started on treatment. Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to prevent these uncomfortable infections in the future! 

~The Sexpert

Information regarding Urinary Tract Infections provided by the Mayo Clinic Website.

For more advice from The Sexpert, visit thesexpert.princeton.edu. To submit a question, email The Sexpert at sexpert@princeton.edu.

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