The good news is that there are things you can do about UTIs...to prevent them, and to treat them once they hit.
WHAT CAUSES UTIs?
Although UTIs can occur when any kind of bacteria get into your your urinary tract, they are most commonly caused by natural bacteria (like E. coli) from your digestive tract. E. coli is actually an important bug to have in your gut because it kills off harmful bacteria, and it should never harm your body as long as it is confined to the GI tract where it belongs. However, we get into trouble when the E. coli bacteria that exit your body in each bowel movement somehow make their way forward into your urinary tract.
How does that happen? Well, there are several ways. The most common are not wiping properly after a bowel movement, wearing tight-fitting pants/underwear and sex. In each case, the circumstances cause gut bacteria to be picked up from your anal area and moved forward to your vaginal and urinary tract areas.
Doctors even have a special name for the UTIs women get from having lots of sex: honeymoon cystitis. Not only can sex transfer the bacteria from back to front, it can go the extra mile to make sure those bacteria are repeatedly shoved up into the urethra where they can colonize your urinary tract, potentially going all the way up not just into your bladder but into your kidneys where they can do permanent damage if not treated properly.
HOW TO TREAT/CURE AN EXISTING UTI
If you already have a UTI, you are ready for an answer immediately if not hours ago. So here goes...
1. Drink Lots of Water
I know you're thinking I've lost my mind, but until you can get chemicals into your body to manage the symptoms and start killing off the bacteria, the best thing you can do is drink a lot of water. The water does several helpful things: (a) It dilutes your urine, which means there are fewer bacteria per unit of urine to irritate the tissues of your urinary tract; (b) It flushes some of those bugs out of your system; and (c) It gives you something to actually pee out when you feel that maddening pressure to urinate.
2. Take Pyridium/Azo to Relieve the Symptoms
The second thing you should do is run to the nearest drugstore and get some Azo (standard). You may also want to take a bottle of water with you too, or buy one there, so you can take your first pill immediately. The Azo contains a substance called phenazopyridine hydrochloride (or pyridium) that essentially numbs your urinary tract. It will also turn your pee orange, so don't freak out.
If you get recurrent UTIs, you may want to keep some Azo in your medicine cabinet at home and take it with you when you travel.
3. Try D-Mannose for a Cure
NOTE: If you want to hedge your bets, go ahead and make an appointment with your doctor (Step 4) now, in case this doesn't work. But if it's a weekend or you are feeling just the slightest hint of symptoms, you may want to try this home remedy first.
Go to the nearest health food store and pick up a big bottle of D-mannose capsules (1000 mg). (And you may want to keep some of this in the house at all times, along with the Azo.) Then take 3 to 5 capsules (3000 to 5000 mg) every 3-4 hours with lots of water until bedtime.
D-mannose is a natural type of sugar that gut bacteria happen to love, but which cannot be easily metabolized by your system, so it passes through your body virtually unused. In fact 90% of what you take will end up in your bladder, ready for elimination, within an hour of your taking it. (D-mannose products may also include cranberry extract for additional urinary tract benefits.)
The bacteria feed on the sugars they find in the lining of your urinary tract. What happens when you take the D-mannose is that the greedy bacteria abandon the lining of your urinary tract and jump into this virtual river of sugar where they are carried on through and out of your body the next time you pee.
Try this for just a couple of days, taking 3 to 5 capsules every few hours while you're awake. If you still have symptoms while taking it or after stopping it, go see your doctor.
4. See a Doctor, Take Antibiotics
If you have a rip-snorting, full-blown UTI, the D-mannose remedy may simply not be up to the challenge. In that case, you will need antibiotics. Your doctor may want to culture your urine to find out what kind of bacteria are colonizing your urinary tract, and to find out if the bugs you have are resistant to any antibiotics.
He or she may start you on a broad-spectrum antibiotic even before getting the results, in hopes this is just a garden-variety E. coli from your own gut. As with any antibiotics, be sure to take the entire bottle as directed, even if you think you've already gotten rid of the infection.
I'm not sure why this is, but the last time I had a UTI, my doctor's office did not detect it, at least not from their in-office tests. It may be because I was taking D-mannose at the time and drinking a ton of water, which may have diluted my urine and fooled the tests. I don't know. But by the next day there was no doubt in my mind I had a major UTI. Fortunately, the doctor had already prescribed a typical course of antibiotics, with the intention that I could use the pills one at a time as a preventive measure. I ended up taking the whole 2 weeks' course to kick the active infection.
Please note: If you do get UTIs regularly (especially if you're not doing anything that might cause new UTIs), consider the possibility that you may not be getting separate UTIs but may simply have the same one you've never gotten rid of. In this case, you should definitely encourage your doctor to do a urine culture to identify the specific bacteria causing your problems and to find out which drugs can kill it. It is possible to get a drug-resistant bacterial infection for which you will need a specialized drug to knock it out once and for all.
Clearly, no woman who has ever had a UTI wants to get another. So here are some tips to help you prevent them.
a. Improve bathroom habits.
Always wipe front to back when you use the bathroom, especially after a bowel movement. If you're prone to UTIs, consider using personal wipes or simply wash the area of your genitals and anus with antibacterial soap after each visit to the toilet. If you have a bidet, use it.
b. Avoid crotch-intensive clothing.
Don't wear tight jeans or thong underwear that fit into the crack of your butt where they can access gut bacteria and then rub them around your genital area.
c. Practice UTI-preventive sex.
Before having sex, drink lots of water, and urinate to get any existing bacteria out of your urinary tract. Also, it can be helpful for you and your partner to wash your genitals and anal areas thoroughly before sex. If you're creative, you can make it a part of foreplay. And then be sure to urinate again after sex to get any bacteria out that may have been introduced to your urinary tract during sex.
d. Take D-mannose after sex.
On the chance that you may have gotten bacteria into your urinary tract during sex, you might want to go ahead and start on the D-mannose, taking 3000 mg every few hours afterwards and do so for a couple of days. If you are having sex frequently, should you be taking D-mannose every day? That's a good question, but there's no single answer. Some sex acts or positions have little risk of transferring bacteria unless you or your partner did not clean properly after having a BM. But other encounters may be very active or prolonged so that no matter how clean you and your partner were to begin with, you inevitably wind up with fecal bacteria in the mix. The good news is that the D-mannose should pass through you with little or no effect, except to lure the bacteria to leave your urinary tract. So other than the cost, there should be no downsides to taking it preventively.
e. Take an antibiotic after sex.
Those of you who have stubborn, recurrent UTIs resulting from sex may want to ask your doctor to prescribe a common antibiotic so you can take one antibiotic preventively after sex. You would only need to take one pill in a given day, even if you made love multiple times that day. These are typically sulfa drugs like Bactrim, but some people are allergic to sulfa drugs or may become allergic to them over time. There are other antibiotics your doctor can prescribe if you are allergic to sulfa. But keep in mind that the antibiotic treatment is a last resort, and you should not do this unless all other preventive methods have failed.
f. Take cranberry daily.
The research is mixed on the benefits of cranberry juice and cranberry extract. However, when benefits are shown, they are always more pronounced for prevention than for treatment of UTIs. So if you are prone ot UTIs, it can't hurt to take some form of cranberry product every day.
And BTW, not all women feel the classic urgency, pressure and burning when they have a UTI. My daughter gets abdominal pains and then nausea (because pain makes her nauseated) without the other symptoms. It's usually not until her doctor does a urine test that she realizes she has a UTI. So just be aware of your own body, how it reacts and how it communicates with you.
And as always, be sure to check with your doctor before implementing any health related regimens.