The burning, the pain and the constant feeling like you have to "go," are all signs that you could have a urinary tract infection, or UTI. Almost every woman will experience one at some point in their lives and yet they can be one of the most confusing (and annoying) conditions.
It's easy to assume since UTIs are so common, that you can get an over-the-counter drug to fix it, or maybe chug some cranberry juice. Believing all of these things (and the other myths below) can actually be harmful, because UTIs are serious infections that should not be left untreated by a professional.
"It is not possible to treat a symptomatic bacterial infection without antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. There are many ways to prevent new bladder infections from arising, but once you have one, it's best to see your doctor to have it treated appropriately," Dr. Shweta Pai, wellness advisor for Love Wellness and an MD specializing in female pelvic medicine, tells CNET.
Keep reading below to find out more about UTIs, myths surrounding the infections and tips from Pai on how to prevent them.
Myth 1: Only women can get a UTI
A urinary tract infection is an infection in part of your urinary tract system (including the bladder and ureter) but the bladder and urethra are the most common areas. Since both men and women have urinary systems, men can get UTIs too, but it's more common in women.
Men don't get UTIs as often as women because they have longer urethras, which means it's more difficult for bacteria to reach the bladder.
Urinary tract infections happen when bacteria get into the wrong place at the wrong time -- which can be triggered by poor hygiene habits, sex and other factors like not staying properly hydrated, according to Pai. One common bacteria that causes UTIs is E. coli, which is found in poop, FYI.
"Signs and symptoms of a UTI vary for each person, but can include blood in the urine, burning with urination, urinary frequency (going to the bathroom more often) and urinary urgency (that sensation that you can't make it to the bathroom in time), and suprapubic or back pain," Pai said.
Myth 2: You can treat UTIs with OTC drugs or home remedies
Even though UTIs are common and can happen pretty frequently, you should always see a doctor if you have one. There are plenty of online blogs with home remedies and drugs you can buy over the counter at the drugstore that promise to help, but nothing can really treat you except for a doctor-prescribed medication.
Leaving a UTI untreated is no joke and can lead to potentially life-threatening issues. "If a UTI is left untreated, bacteria can travel up the urinary tract and into the kidneys, causing a kidney infection or pyelonephritis. Pyelonephritis can be a serious and life-threatening illness, so it's always best to get treatment if you're having symptoms of a UTI," Pai said.
Myth 3: Sex causes UTIs
Many people associate UTIs with sex, which is definitely a contributing factor, but not a direct cause. UTIs happen when bacteria gets in your urinary tract, and sex can sometimes make this more likely to happen.
"Certain women are more prone to developing UTIs, and some women have recurrent UTIs that are associated with intercourse. If this happens to you, it's important to speak with your doctor, as you may be a candidate for a small dose of antibiotics around the time that you have intercourse, to help prevent a UTI from developing. However, do not take antibiotics unless prescribed by your doctor," Pai said.
Myth 4: Cranberry juice can help treat UTIs
It's common for people to think of drinking cranberry juice when it comes to urinary tract health, which is not totally wrong. But drinking cranberry juice may be a waste of time, especially if you already have a UTI.
"Proanthocyanidins, a compound found in cranberries, can help block bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall. This helps prevent UTIs caused by the bacteria E. coli, which is one of the most common culprits in bladder infections," Pai said.
The evidence from studies on the effectiveness of cranberry juice is mixed. One study found that cranberry juice did not help prevent UTIs from occurring, and another study involving both juice and cranberry supplements did. Bottom line, cranberry juice or pills can't treat your UTI, and you shouldn't rely on it to prevent them either.
How to prevent a UTI
You can prevent a UTI by making sure to use proper hygiene when you go to the bathroom and after sex. "Wipe front to back when using the toilet, and make sure that after intercourse you are not allowing the vagina to sit in a moist environment, as bacteria love moisture," Pai said.
You should also stay hydrated and consider taking a quality probiotic. "Make sure to drink plenty of water, as adequate hydration helps prevent UTIs. Introducing probiotics into your diet can also help promote healthy vaginal bacteria, which helps block harmful bacteria from entering into the urinary tract," Pai said.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.