How can I prevent a UTI?
Want to know how to keep UTI (AKA cystitis) at bay? There are a number of things you can try to help prevent a UTI. These include changes to what you eat and drink, getting rid of bad habits, and introducing some new good ones.
Good and bad foods for cystitis
Do cranberries help prevent a urinary tract infection?
A common belief is that drinking cranberry juice will fix all your UTI-related problems! Although it has been found that cranberries contain compounds which may help to protect cells in the bladder against harmful bacteria, the evidence is very mixed on whether ingesting cranberry is effective at preventing cystitis, and more research is needed before firm conclusions are made.6 However, there are a number of other changes you can make to your diet to help prevent a urinary tract infection, which are better supported by evidence.
✅ Drink lots of water: Sometimes Dehydration can actually cause a Urinary Tract Infection or Cystitis. When you have a urinary tract infection, you may not want to drink as much to avoid having to go to the toilet to avoid that burning sensation when you pee or because peeing may be very painful. But actually, keeping hydrated can help to flush harmful bacteria out of your system. A review of studies found that for those who are prone to UTIs, increasing daily water intake proved very effective at preventing UTI.1 The Eatwell Guide recommends drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water a day.2
✅ Eat a healthy, balanced diet, including high-fibre foods: This can help to avoid constipation. Constipation increases bacteria growth, therefore increasing the chances of harmful bacteria causing an infection.
✅ Try to include antioxidants (e.g., blueberries, cranberries)3, anti-inflammatories (e.g., nuts, leafy greens)4, probiotics (e.g., yoghurt) and prebiotics (e.g., garlic, onion)5 in your diet. These are full of vitamins and minerals, they help to protect against harmful bacteria, and they encourage the growth of “good” bacteria.
❌ Drinking caffeinated drinks and alcoholic drinks: Both of these are diuretics. If you become dehydrated, bacteria is more likely to grow.7
❌ Drinking sugary drinks: Sugary drinks irritate the bladder, and when bladder tissue cells are damaged, the bladder wall is more susceptible to infection.7
For more information on how to prevent cystitis with dietary changes, check out our Nutrition and Hydration blog.
Building new habits
How long should you hold a pee?
It is important not to delay having a wee. Holding a wee means holding in bacteria that could become harmful if it travels up the urinary tract.
Does sex cause UTI?
Urinary tract infections are not sexually transmitted, however, sexual activity can introduce new bacteria into the urinary tract, and it is important to flush it out before it can do any damage and affect your sex life! For this reason, it is especially important to pee after having sex to prevent a UTI.
Keeping clean and dry
If you wear clothing that is tight and traps moisture, this creates a perfect environment for bacteria to grow. Bacteria thrive most in warm and humid environments. If possible, choose breathable fabrics, for example cotton underwear, to help prevent cystitis.7
Similarly, changing incontinence / menstrual products / underwear frequently avoids the creation of a bacteria-friendly environment.
Lastly, (something we have heard a lot of recently!) hand washing is essential! Especially if you are changing incontinence / menstrual products, as any bacteria that you pick up on your hands could be introduced to the urinary tract and could then become harmful.8
Looking after the good bacteria
Products such as soaps, vaginal lotions and bubble bath products can disrupt the bacterial make-up in the vagina. This can mean a reduction in the amount of “good” bacteria, which is needed to counterbalance the bad.9
Spermicide can also be harmful to “good” bacteria. Opting for products (e.g., condoms, lubricants) which do not contain spermicide is a good precaution to take to prevent a urinary tract infection.7
Fighting off the bad bacteria
Taking showers instead of baths is also a good precaution to take to prevent a UTI. Bathing allows bacteria the opportunity to travel through water into the urinary tract. But showering, as well as avoiding getting bath & body products near the area, lessens the chance of bacteria entering the urinary tract and upsetting the bacterial balance.7
Wiping front to back is another important habit to develop. Cystitis is often caused by bacteria from the gut entering the urinary tract, and wiping front to back is a simple method to reduce the risk of this transfer.
The scientific evidence for the efficacy of these dietary and habitual changes is often mixed, but there is still good reason to believe that these measures can help to prevent an infection, so it is worth experimenting with different prevention strategies.
How to prevent a UTI after menopause
Each year, around 9% of women over the age of 50 will get a case of cystitis.10 Similar preventative measures for UTI are recommended postmenopause, as well as the use of vaginal oestrogen. Oestrogen levels naturally drop after menopause, and this can impact the bacterial make-up in the vagina. The amount of good bacteria is less, and the chance of infection by harmful bacteria is higher.11 Therefore, the use of vaginal oestrogen is recommended to prevent a urinary tract infection.12
How to prevent a UTI with a catheter
One study found that in a large sample of NHS patients, 12.9% said that they were using a catheter. Using a catheter puts you at risk of developing a urinary tract infection because of the bacteria that can get into the urinary tract.
If you live with an indwelling catheter or intermittent catheterisation, it is especially important to keep good hand hygiene, handle the catheter as little as possible, and to clean the tube and the area where the tube is inserted, to prevent a UTI.13 Bladder & Bowel have more information on catheter use:
If you do suspect that you have a urinary tract infection, it is important that you do a urine test, which you can do at home with the TestCard UTI test kit (available at Amazon.com or TestCard.com). If your symptoms become more severe or you begin to experience symptoms of a kidney infection (e.g., vomiting, fever, chills), it is important that you seek help from a medical professional straight away.
1Scott, A. M., Clark, J., Del Mar, C., & Glasziou, P. (2020). Increased fluid intake to prevent urinary tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of General Practice, 70(692), e200-e207.
6Fu, Z., Liska, D., Talan, D., & Chung, M. (2017). Cranberry reduces the risk of urinary tract infection recurrence in otherwise healthy women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of nutrition, 147(12), 2282-2288.
9Al-Badr, A., & Al-Shaikh, G. (2013). Recurrent urinary tract infections management in women: a review. Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal, 13(3), 359.
10Hu, K. K., Boyko, E. J., Scholes, D., Normand, E., Chen, C. L., Grafton, J., & Fihn, S. D. (2004). Risk factors for urinary tract infections in postmenopausal women. Archives of internal medicine, 164(9), 989-993.
11Caretto, M., Giannini, A., Russo, E., & Simoncini, T. (2017). Preventing urinary tract infections after menopause without antibiotics. Maturitas, 99, 43-46.
13Flores-Mireles, A., Hreha, T. N., & Hunstad, D. A. (2019). Pathophysiology, treatment, and prevention of catheter-associated urinary tract infection. Topics in spinal cord injury rehabilitation, 25(3), 228-240.