Urinary tract infections: Myths and facts

May 5, 2016 Providence Health Team

The cranberry tops the list of home remedies for preventing and treating a urinary tract infection (UTI). This tart berry, grown in bogs and marshes throughout North America, has been used to remedy UTIs for centuries. But does it really work?

We spoke with Marina Cheng, M.D., urologist at Olympia Urology to find out if cranberry juice or extract can help prevent or treat UTIs.  Read on to find out what Dr. Cheng said about this powerful little berry and other UTI-related myths.

Myth #1: Cranberry (juice or pill form) helps prevent UTIs

True. Studies show that cranberry can help prevent UTIs. But the pill is much more effective than juice because it’s more concentrated. Take cranberry when symptoms first start; this may help ward off a potential UTI. Initial symptoms include:

  • Burning during urination
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Urgency
  • Discomfort in the suprapubic area (between the belly button and pubic bone)

Cranberry can affect some medications, such as blood thinners. If you’re taking a blood thinner, let your primary care provider know before starting cranberry supplements.

Myth #2: You can treat a UTI with cranberry

True. Studies show that cranberry extract has been effective in helping resolve UTIs. IHowever, if you think you have a UTI, see a provider for a urine culture. If you have a fever, it’s important that you see a provider immediately. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids and urinate often to help flush out bacteria.

Myth #3: You can get a UTI from holding your bladder too long, or too often

True. One of the best ways to prevent UTIs is urinating. Bacteria reach the bladder by traveling up the urethra. If you don’t regularly flush out the bacteria it can multiply in the bladder causing an infection.

Myth #4: Tight clothing can cause UTIs

Untrue. But it’s always better to keep clothing dry. Bacteria like warm, wet environments. Women who experience frequent urinary leakage may be more susceptible to UTIs. In my opinion, it’s better to wear cotton underpants. Cotton is more absorbent and wicks moisture away from the body.

Myth #5: Emptying your bladder immediately after intercourse can help prevent UTIs

True. That’s very important. You should always empty your bladder immediately after intercourse to help flush out any bacteria that may have entered the urethra. This is especially important if you suffer from frequent UTIs.

Myth #6: Men don’t get UTIs

Untrue. It’s rare, but it’s still possible. In most cases of UTIs in men, there is some other issue, such as the inability to empty the bladder due to an enlarged prostate, or the person has kidney stones. Women are more prone to UTIs because they have a shorter urethra which allows bacteria to travel to the bladder more quickly.

Myth #7: Kidney stones can cause UTIs

True. Men and women with kidney stones are more susceptible to UTIs. Bacteria cling to foreign bodies, whether it’s a kidney stone, catheter or stent. It’s difficult to flush bacteria out of the body in this case and equally difficult for the body’s immune system or antibiotics to reach and kill bacteria clinging to kidney stones.

I think I have a UTI. What should I do?

See a provider for a urine culture. Urinary symptoms do not necessarily mean you have a UTI.  A culture will show if there is an infection and which antibiotic will be effective against that type of bacteria.  If you have a fever, it’s important that you see a provider immediately. A fever could indicate the infection has reached the kidneys. Consider seeing a specialist if you have chronic (three or more per year) UTIs.

Concerned about urinary tract infection? See your provider.  You can find a Providence provider here.

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