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A urinary tract infection (UTI) can knock you off your feet.

UTIs occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract and multiply. They affect one or more areas within the urinary tract. This can include the:

  • urethra
  • bladder
  • ureters
  • kidneys

They can cause:

  • painful and frequent urination
  • lower abdominal pain
  • bloody urine

These infections are responsible for roughly 8 million doctor visits each year.

UTIs are the second most common type of infection to occur in the human body. They occur more often in women but can affect men, too.

People assigned female at birth have a shorter urethra, so it’s easier for bacteria to enter their bladder. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that 40 to 60 percent of women will have at least one UTI in their lifetime.

Urinary tract infections in men are often related to an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hypertrophy) blocking the flow of urine. This allows bacteria to have an easier time occupying the urinary tract.

In almost 90 percent of cases, the bacterium Escherichia coli is the cause of the UTI. E. coli is normally found inside the intestines. When confined to the intestines, it’s harmless. But sometimes, this bacterium gets into the urinary tract and causes an infection.

Sex may trigger a UTI in women. This is because intercourse can move bacteria from the anal area to near the opening of the urethra. Women can lower their risk of infection by cleaning the genital area before any sexual activity and by urinating afterward.

Using spermicides, diaphragms, and condoms also raises the risk of a UTI. The risk is higher in people with a weakened immune system as well.

Most UTIs aren’t serious. But if left untreated, the infection can spread up to the kidneys and bloodstream and become life threatening. Kidney infections can lead to kidney damage and kidney scarring.

Symptoms of a UTI usually improve within 2 to 3 days after starting antibiotic therapy. Many doctors prescribe an antibiotic for at least 3 days.

While this type of medication is the standard treatment, researchers are noticing that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are reducing the effectiveness of some antibiotics in treating UTIs.

Some UTIs don’t clear up after antibiotic therapy. When an antibiotic medication doesn’t stop the bacteria from causing an infection, the bacteria continue to multiply.

The overuse or misuse of antibiotics is often the reason for antibiotic resistance. This can happen when the same antibiotic is prescribed over and over again for recurrent UTIs. Because of this risk, experts have been looking for ways to treat UTIs without antibiotics.

So far, preliminary studies have been promising. Some research has shown that UTIs can be treated without traditional antibiotics by targeting E. coli’s surface component for adhesion, FimH.

Typically, the urinary tract flushes away bacteria when you urinate. But according to researchers, FimH can cause E. coli to firmly attach to the cells in the urinary tract. And because of this tight grip, it’s hard for the body to naturally flush the bacteria from the urinary tract.

If researchers can uncover a way to target this protein with other types of therapies, treating or preventing UTIs with antibiotics might become a thing of the past.

D-mannose is a sugar that sticks to E. coli. Recently, researchers have studied the possibility of using D-mannose and other mannose-containing substances to block the binding of FimH to the lining of the urinary tract. One small, limited study from 2014 showed positive results when attempting to prevent recurrent UTIs.

More research is needed, but potentially, a medication that utilizes a mannose-containing substance that opposes FimH from attaching to the lining of the urinary tract in one way or another could show promise for the treatment of UTIs caused by E. coli.

Researchers are also currently testing immune-boosting drugs. These could help urinary tract cells become more resistant to infections.

The American Urological Association (AUA) recommends vaginal estrogen as a non-antibiotic option for perimenopausal or postmenopausal women seeking to prevent recurrent infections.

Until there are more advancements in UTI treatment, antibiotics remain the most effective standard treatment. However, prescription medication doesn’t have to be the only line of defense.

Along with standard therapy, you can incorporate home remedies to feel better sooner and reduce the likelihood of recurrent infections.

1. Try cranberries

Cranberries may contain an ingredient that stops bacteria from attaching to the walls of the urinary tract.

Research is inconclusive and more studies are needed, but some studies say that you might be able to reduce your risk of UTIs with unsweetened cranberry juice, cranberry supplements, or dried cranberries.

However, other studies say that the use of cranberries to prevent UTIs doesn’t produce consistent results.

2. Drink plenty of water

Although urinating can be painful when you have a UTI, it’s important to drink as many fluids as possible, particularly water. Most adults should aim to drink between six and eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.

The more you drink, the more you’ll urinate. Urinating helps flush harmful bacteria from the urinary tract.

3. Pee when you need to

Holding your urine or ignoring the urge to urinate can allow bacteria to multiply in your urinary tract. As a rule of thumb, always use the bathroom when you feel the urge.

It’s also important to make sure you’re fully emptying your bladder when you urinate and to always urinate after sex, especially if you have a vagina. If you do, it’s also important to wipe front to back after you urinate.

4. Take probiotics

Probiotics promote healthy digestion and immunity. They also may be effective in treating and preventing UTIs.

With a UTI, bad bacteria replace good bacteria in the vagina, especially those of one group called Lactobacillus. Probiotics can restore good bacteria and might reduce the recurrence of a UTI.

Though some research proves probiotics to be effective in UTI prevention and treatment, more research is needed.

5. Get more vitamin C

Increasing your intake of vitamin C may help prevent a UTI. Studies show that vitamin C strengthens the immune system and may help acidify the urine to prevent infection.

Some research shows conflicting evidence for the effectiveness of vitamin C to treat UTIs, however, saying that not enough studies have been done to support this treatment.

6. Wear loose clothing

Wearing cotton-lined and loose-fitting clothing may help treat preexisting UTI infections by helping to keep the area dry and clean.

Tight-fitting clothing and certain types of fabric may trap moisture that allows bacteria to grow in the genital area, which could cause infection.

7. Consider switching birth control

Some older research suggests that certain contraceptives may contribute to the cause of UTIs in some women.

If you use diaphragms, spermicides, or nonlubricated condoms and get frequent UTIs, it may be worth talking to your doctor to find other methods of birth control.

It’s not uncommon for UTIs to go away on their own with at-home care and without the use of antibiotics.

Some research estimates that 25 to 42 percent of UTIs can go away on their own. This is usually only common in women with no other health issues.

However, there are some serious risks that can come from leaving a UTI untreated, including pyelonephritis and sepsis.

UTIs are painful, but with treatment, you can alleviate an infection and prevent recurrent infections. Talk with your doctor if you have symptoms of a UTI. With proper treatment, you should begin to feel better in a few days.

Take your antibiotics as instructed — even after your symptoms improve — to prevent complications or a secondary infection.

If the UTI doesn’t resolve after antibiotic treatment or you end up with multiple episodes of a UTI, your doctor will likely do further testing.

This could be in the form of:

You may be referred to a urologist, depending on the severity of your UTI or if you have chronic infections.

Certain strains of bacteria can cause UTIs. They can range from mild to severe. The degree of severity depends on multiple factors, including:

  • your immune system status
  • the bacterium causing the UTI
  • where in your urinary tract the UTI is happening

It’s also possible to have bacterial colonization in the urinary tract that’s not causing you to have a UTI. Your doctor will be able to provide you with an evaluation tailored to your needs in order to make the right diagnosis and determine the proper therapy.

Can UTIs go away on their own?

Research estimates that 25 to 42 percent of uncomplicated UTIs in women can go away spontaneously. Other research suggests that the use of ibuprofen in place of prescribed antibiotics can also help cure UTIs.

However, it’s important to note that these studies were done on women with no other known bladder issues and more research is needed on at-home remedies and cures before they can be suggested to work to treat UTIs.

It’s also important to keep in mind that there are some risks associated with leaving UTIs untreated.

Do you need to see a doctor to get antibiotics for a UTI?

You need to speak with your doctor or a licensed medical professional to be prescribed antibiotics for a UTI. This can usually be done in person, at the doctor, or over the phone.

If this is your first UTI or your symptoms are severe it may be helpful to get treated in person to rule out the possibility of sexually transmitted infections.

How long do UTIs last without antibiotics?

One study on older women and UTIs found that up to half of women with UTI symptoms saw their infections clear up within a week without the use of antibiotics.

However, it’s not easy to give an estimate on how long your UTI might last, since every person is different.

UTI infections can be very common, and in many cases, they can go away on their own or be cured with home remedies.

If your UTI symptoms are severe, or if it’s your first UTI, be sure to speak with your doctor to get a proper diagnosis and be prescribed antibiotics.