Bucket of colorful water balloons — lots of UTIs!
Down There Care

How to Beat Recurrent UTIs

By Kathleen Morrison
Do you ever feel trapped in a cycle of unpredictable and uncontrollable urinary tract infections? Maybe you know what triggers them, but you don’t know how to prevent a UTI. Or, you feel like you’ve tried every UTI cure and nothing seems to help (including doctors who shrug their shoulders and tell you to pee after sex — again). It’s enough to make anyone lose their mind a little — I would know, I’ve been there. I got my first UTI... and then proceeded to get six in one year. After doctors and Google failed me, I did a little experimenting of my own — there had to be a way to prevent my recurrent UTIs. Not everything I tried worked, but after some missteps, I was able to figure out what worked for me. Everyone’s body is different and I certainly don’t claim to know the cure for chronic UTIs, but I’m hoping to pass on a bit of my knowledge to help a fellow member of the UTI club!

Sex, love, and UTIs

I moved to San Francisco, CA for grad school when I was 25, fresh-faced and very single. I came ready to explore the city and hopped on dating apps once my routine got settled to meet new people and inject a healthy dose of romance and adventure into a schedule otherwise dominated by reading and studying. I went on a few dates, slept with a couple cute guys, and one afternoon I felt a mild pain when I peed and found myself feeling like I had to go all the time.
After a quick Google, it became pretty obvious I was dealing with a UTI. It happened over a holiday weekend (don’t they always?) so I made an appointment at an urgent care, got a quick UTI test, and was prescribed antibiotics by a nurse practitioner. I ended up paying about $200 for the whole experience, but I felt better almost immediately after taking the first pill, so I chalked up the experience to not peeing after sex and went on with my life.

Doctors can only take you so far

Unfortunately, UTIs weren’t done with me yet. I knew from my own research that once you’ve had one UTI, you’re much more likely to experience another one, so I wasn’t super surprised when I got another just a couple of months later. I had been trying to stay conscious of all the things you are supposed to do: peeing after sex, drinking water, taking cranberry supplements (when I remembered, of course). I wasn’t too worried though — these things happen. It wasn’t until I had my 3rd UTI just a few weeks after that that I started getting anxious. Every UTI I had gotten after my first one was worse than the one before: the pain was severe and the symptoms went from 0 to 60. I could be fine one minute and then crippled by a UTI the next. I made an appointment with the gynecologist at my student health center to try and get to the root of the issue.
I gave the doctor a rundown of my experience and told her when a UTI did appear, it seemed to always start almost exactly 24 hours after sex. Although she was sympathetic to my struggle, she didn’t have much advice that I didn’t already know from doing my own research. She suggested taking a probiotic formulated for the urinary tract and seeing if that helped. She also let me know that one option could be taking a low dose of antibiotics prophylactically (basically, taking antibiotics all the time to prevent UTI-causing bacteria from taking hold). The idea definitely didn’t appeal to me — even a limited round of antibiotics for an illness or infection can upset the natural balance of your body’s healthy bacteria. What would constant antibiotics do? Not to mention I didn’t want to contribute to the issue of antibiotic-resistant infections. I left the office frustrated but determined to figure it out on my own.

Lots of trial and lots of error

Over the next two years, my body became a testing ground for every UTI remedy I could find. I also started keeping a log of different factors that I felt could be contributing to my UTIs (this is what ultimately became the key to cracking the code!). I knew they would happen after sex, but they didn’t happen every time which made things all the more confusing so I tried to narrow down the culprit. Here’s my rating of the stuff that didn’t work for me:

Probiotics

Since my doctor had suggested them, I tried a few different brands of probiotics. I took them consistently, but I still got UTIs while I was using them. The research is still out on probiotics — there is promising evidence to support their use and given that they are extremely safe to take, I would recommend giving them a try if you get recurrent UTIs. Just because they didn’t work for me, doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. 3.0 out of 5 for healthy flora.

Cranberry Supplements

I knew artificial cranberry juice was a UTI myth (the added sugar can actually make UTIs worse!), but I figured taking cranberry tablets couldn’t hurt. They didn’t hurt, but I didn’t find them helpful either. 2.5 out of 5 for the little vitamin C boost.

Baking Soda

Ok, this one’s weird, but hear me out. I found this remedy on an obscure Reddit thread when I was ready to try anything. Some people claim that baking soda can neutralize the acidity of your urine which reduces irritation and allows your body to get rid of the UTI on its own. It is possible to overdose on baking soda and mild complications can include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Severe complications can include seizures, coma, and even death. In my experience, baking soda did lessen my UTI pain but did not treat my infection. With those questionable side effects, I can’t recommend it. 0 out of 5 for being scary.

So what did work?

What ended up working for me was ultimately simple (if not very exciting): I kept track of when I had sex if I got a UTI the next day, and every single factor I could think of that could contribute to the infection. Did I pee afterward? (Yes, always) Did I pee before? Was alcohol involved? Did I shower before or after? How much water did I drink the next day? What kind of underwear was I wearing? Did I take any vitamins or supplements? After a few months of tracking my own data, I came up with a theory for a possible UTI solution.

Water, water everywhere

I noticed that if I focused on staying hydrated and drinking much more water than I typically would in the 24 hours after having sex, I could usually avoid a UTI. Once I started testing this theory, I was able to figure out it wasn’t necessarily the amount of water I drank (although more is certainly better!), but how often I peed the day after sex that really made the difference. If I waited 4 or more hours between emptying my bladder, I could pretty much count on UTI symptoms popping up. If I paid attention, stayed hydrated throughout the day, and peed often, I could consistently avoid a UTI. 5 out of 5 — drink your water!

The little supplement that could

A little before I figured out how to prevent my UTIs with frequent urination, I started taking a daily D-Mannose supplement. In my research, I found compelling evidence that D-Mannose could help prevent UTIs by helping to flush bacteria from the urinary tract, which was what I was essentially doing by emptying my bladder frequently throughout the day. I wasn’t sure if D-Mannose was helping but I continued to take it until I ran out. When I stopped taking D-Mannose, I found that flushing my bladder with just water worked less reliably — I had less wiggle room for error and had to pee more often to make sure to avoid a UTI. I started taking D-Mannose again and it seemed like a little extra protection against UTIs. 5 out of 5 for working with my body!

No more UTIs

Now almost 7 years later, I feel like I have a good handle on my UTIs. Do I still get them? Every once in a while — I’m still human after all. But I also feel like I can have sex without worrying about a UTI ruining my next few days. If I’m going to travel I always keep an extra dose of antibiotics on hand just in case. I’ve never found a successful UTI treatment that didn’t involve taking antibiotics so I never wait to treat — I don’t want to risk a kidney infection.
Remember: if you’re someone who gets recurrent UTIs, it’s not your fault. Sometimes our bodies’ chemistry makes us prone to things like UTIs, yeast infections, or BV. My solution might not be your solution, but don’t give up until you figure out something that works for you. In the meantime, you can always get treatment for acute infections from wisp 🥰
Check out this review of Wisp to see which UTI treatments could work well for you.

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