I spent a year and a half with recurrent UTIs at the beginning of my last long-term relationship, and now that I have a sex life again (yay), I’ve been struck down yet again. They’re painful, it sucks, but now I feel a lot less dread when I’m faced with one. If you have recurrent UTIs, it can be a sign of a structural problem, but for many people (e.g. me) that’s not the case and you just have to suck it up and deal with it as best you can. You should definitely get it checked out first though, because there may be a good explanation.
Here’s what I’ve tried and how it went, for treating and preventing UTIs and dealing with the fallout, which may or may not work for you.
Disclaimer: This does not constitute medical advice. Go see a doctor and talk about these options before diving head first into them! I am not a medical professional so if anything goes wrong you can’t sue me… but you can sue them. Go see one if only for that. For all of the pharmaceutical options (prescription or OTC), I haven’t listed out all the side effects – read the side effects info leaflet thoroughly before taking anything!
1. Treating UTIs
a. Antibiotic Treatment When Infected
This is extremely obvious, and the standard treatment – antibiotics are THE way to kill bacteria. You want to start on these as early as possible so the infection doesn’t spread.
It can be a bit difficult to get to a doctor quickly, especially when you’re in horrific pain. If you have a good relationship with your GP and you have a lot of UTIs, and you’ve gotten good at recognising the fun pinching burning feeling you get at the start of an infection, they may prescribe you some antibiotics so you can start on them right away.
- They usually work like nothing else.
- Pretty cheap if you get the generic brand.
- Antibiotics can cause antibiotic resistant strains to develop if you don’t take them correctly (if you take too short or too long a course, or skip doses). If that happens, you may be subjected to the joy of taking a restricted antibiotic. I’ve had to do this twice because a doctor prescribed me a course that was too short (500 mg cephalexin twice daily for 3 days, rather than 5-7 days).
- They can kill good bacteria elsewhere which leads to other issues e.g. yeast infections, gut problems.
- They’re prescription-only.
2. Dealing with Yeast Infections
About half the time after I take a course of antibiotics I’ll end up with a yeast infection, since the antibiotics kill the bacteria and let the yeast overgrow. Super sexy.
a. Creams and Pessaries (Clotrimazole)
Interestingly Canesten is the brand name both in Australia and in Europe. This is a topical treatment that you put up your hoo-ha to kill yeast, and it comes in a few forms: I’ve tried a 3 day cream, 6 day cream and a pessary (a chunky tablet for your vag).
- Over the counter so you don’t need to see a doctor.
- Your vagina will dribble out thick cream or chunks of pessary while you’re on the treatment and for a few days afterwards, so stock up on pantyliners. Sex is probably out of the question unless your SO likes this sort of thing.
- The applicator for the cream has sharp edges, which pretty much proves it was designed by a man.
b. Diflucan (Fluconazole)
This is an oral antifungal. I prefer it because it’s so much less fiddly, and works out cheaper too. The only side effect I’ve personally experienced is very mild nausea, but as usual there’s a list of potential side effects.
- Less messy than topicals.
- More potential side effects.
- Less immediate relief.
- Prescription only (in Australia anyway).
c. Preventative: Keep the area dry
Cotton underwear (no synthetics), don’t sit around in wet swimmers, change any pantyliners/pads regularly etc.
d. Preventative: Avoid alkaline/perfumed soaps
e. Yoghurt on a tampon
I’ve only tried this once – the theory is that the probiotics in the yoghurt will reintroduce bacteria to your vag so the yeast can’t overgrow. This was horribly messy and difficult and I couldn’t get over the fact that my giant tub of breakfast yoghurt was only two degrees of separation from a yeast infection. Internet people seem to have had more luck.
3. Fixing up your gut during/after antibiotics
Antibiotics generally gives me bloating, gas and weird poops. A quick internet search tells me I’m very lucky and it could be much worse… oh, the joys of being female.
I take probiotics during the course of antibiotics (in between antibiotic tablets), and after I finish the course of antibiotics in an attempt to recolonise my gut with good bacteria. This generally makes everything slightly better. Also I like the taste of Yakult. I usually go for probiotic tablets or gummies though for convenience.
- Relatively side-effect free.
- Can be pricey (in Australia, anyway).
b. Restricted diet
I mostly know what my gut doesn’t like when it’s delicate, so I try to avoid those foods during and a short while after the antibiotics. For me it’s cabbage, garlic and onion, especially when raw. The FODMAPs diet has a bunch of things that might be worth avoiding if you’re not sure of your own triggers.
- Relatively side-effect free.
- Lack of delicious flavour.
- If you go on it for too long, you can develop allergies and sensitivities that you didn’t have before.
4. Preventing UTIs
a. Prophylactic Antibiotics
If you get enough UTIs, your doctor might prescribe you some prophylactic antibiotics. These are preventative antibiotics that you take either daily or after sex. I started on 250 mg cephalexin daily, but switched to 500 mg after sex after a few months. This worked well for cutting down on full-blown infections, but gave me pretty constant digestive issues and a low-grade continuous yeast infection. There’s a study that found that taking prophylactic antibiotics for 6-12 months helps with preventing future infections.
- Prevents UTIs according to actual evidence, which is always reassuring and frequently covered by government/insurance.
- Antibiotics aren’t good for your natural microflora balance, which means you can get yeast infections and digestive issues.
- Can cause antibiotic resistant bacteria to develop.
b. Peeing after sex
This isn’t really backed up by any research, but the logic is that any bacteria pushed up your urethra (pee-tube) will get pushed out by urine. I don’t know if this really helped for me, but it didn’t hurt (although it can be a bit annoying to remember if you just want to fall asleep or cuddle or whatever).
There’s a theory that chemicals called proanthocyanidins in cranberries can stop bacteria from sticking to the walls of your urethra and bladder, but they’ve gotten mixed results in clinical trials and doctors no longer recommend them. I like the taste of cranberries so I eat them just in case, but the sugar/calorie levels are a bit unfortunate.
d. Ethical Nutrients Urinary Tract Support
This supplement contains a bunch of herbs that are meant to be potentially antibacterial and “detoxifying”. It was recommended by a friend who swears by it but I didn’t have any luck with it, plus it’s pretty pricey.
A clinical trial found that 2 g of this sugar daily for 6 months prevented recurrent UTIs. I haven’t actually tried this but I’m hopeful – I’ve ordered this and am impatiently waiting for it to get here.
5. Dealing with UTI Pain
The faster you start on treatment the less intense the pain will be, but because my body is annoying I’ve gotten UTIs on public holidays (yes… multiple) and in the middle of a conference in a foreign country. Fun times with lots of lower back cramping and fevers.
a. Antibiotics at the ready
As mentioned previously, if your GP is familiar with your issues and trusts you not to be too trigger-happy, they might write a script for you so you can start on antibiotics straight away when you feel a UTI coming on. I always have antibiotics on hand now.
b. Drinking tons more water
Peeing larger volumes hurts less than peeing small volumes, especially when you have that UTI-related urge to go and you squeeze out the tiniest bit of blood and pus. Argh. Some people think it also helps flush out the infection but I’ve found that I still need antibiotics.
c. Nurofen (Ibuprofen)
Ibuprofen is antiinflammatory, which can help beyond just killing pain since UTIs involve inflammation. You should probably have it around the house.
d. Paracetamol/Acetaminophen (Panadol, Tylenol)
Paracetamol is not very anti-inflammatory but still dulls the pain.
e. Wearing dresses
Tight-crotched pants with a UTI are just horrible.
f. Cold on the crotch and warmth on the bladder
A cold drink bottle and a wheat bag have done wonders for me.
Related post: How to Make a Microwave Heat Bag
“Urinary alkaliser” that’s meant to stop the burning feeling. It didn’t do much for me except get me to drink more water.
h. Wear a pad
If you’re having a lot of urges to pee, wearing a sanitary pad can give you peace of mind.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see Disclosure Policy.