Can You Prevent a UTI? Our Doctors Explain

By Chesney Fowler, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
March 1, 2021

Once you’ve had one urinary tract infection (UTI), you’ve had enough. The burning, urgency, and overall discomfort can make you miserable and unproductive since you’re always going to the bathroom. 

Many things—from your anatomy to your sex life to your toilet hygiene—can put you at an increased risk of UTIs. Although you cannot change all of these factors, some simple good habits can help prevent a UTI and any of the potential complications.

Who Is at Higher Risk for Urinary Tract Infections?

A urinary tract infection occurs most often when e. coli enters the urethra and bladder (a.k.a. the lower urinary tract) and multiplies. This bacterial growth can spread to other parts of the urinary system and even through the ureters to the kidneys if it’s left untreated. 

UTIs don’t discriminate. Anyone of any age can get a UTI. However, your anatomy, health conditions, and lifestyle can increase the likelihood of developing a UTI. The main risk factors include:

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How to Prevent a UTI

No matter what your risk for UTI, you can take action to reduce the likelihood of having bacteria grow and spread within your urinary tract. The below habits not only promote general wellness, they may also help prevent a UTI.

  • Drink up. Increasing the intake of fluids—especially water—leads to more frequent urination. And peeing more often can help flush bacteria out of your urinary system before it can cause an infection. Cranberry juice is not proven to prevent UTIs. However, unsweetened 100% cranberry juice would be another fluid, and therefore could also help flush bacteria. (Keep in mind, however, that cranberry juice has about 120 calories per cup. That can add up.)
  • Urinate regularly. It’s best not to hold in urine. When you feel the urge, head to the bathroom.
  • Avoid using deodorant sprays and douches. These products may irritate the urethra. Douching can also alter the pH and the balance of bacteria in the vagina, which can increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis
  • Wipe properly when using the bathroom. Whether it’s after urination or a bowel movement, always try to wipe from front to back.
  • Consider a new birth control. Using unlubricated condoms, spermicides, or diaphragms can lead to UTIs. Unlubricated condoms can irritate the urethra, while spermicide and diaphragms can change the natural bacteria in the vagina, making it easier for harmful bacteria to grow.
  • Change your underwear. Cotton underwear is breathable. That means it won’t trap in moisture—and bacteria thrives in moist environments. 
  • Hit the bathroom after sex. If you’re prone to recurrent UTIs, it may help to empty your bladder shortly after sexual intercourse. You don’t have to jump up the second you finish orgasming. Just try to pee soon after.

UTI Prevention in Men

For men, drinking fluids, urinating when needed, good hygiene in the bathroom, and peeing after sex may help prevent UTIs. 

Additionally, if you frequently get UTIs, see your doctor. They can perform a physical exam to check for an enlarged prostate. If this is the case, you may need surgery.

UTI Prevention in Older Women

If you are menopausal and have recurrent UTIs, talk to your doctor about topical estrogen therapy. When applied directly to the vagina with a cream or ring, estrogen may reduce the number of UTIs you experience. 

UTI Prevention in Children

To help kids prevent the risk of UTI, parents can follow the steps below:

  • Encourage drinking water throughout the day. Be sure to cut back an hour or so before bed to prevent bedwetting.
  • Teach children to wipe from front to back in the bathroom and to fully empty their bladders when they go.
  • As much as possible, do not tell children to “hold it.” They should use the bathroom when they feel the urge, just as adults do.
  • Dress them in cotton underwear and avoid pants that are too tight in the groin. 
  • Change out of wet bathing suits as soon as possible. 

Note that the use of probiotics or vitamin C supplements is not proven to be effective against UTI. 

Can You Prevent a Urinary Tract Infection When You Feel It Coming On?

It can be tempting to try to “flush out” a UTI by guzzling water and cranberry juice when you notice the first hints of burning urination. There’s nothing wrong with staying hydrated, whether or not you have a UTI. But it’s always best to consult your doctor if you suspect you have a urinary tract infection.

Only trained healthcare professionals can properly diagnose a UTI. And if you delay seeking out care, you risk having the infection spread. That can lead to complications such as kidney damage or even sepsis, a potentially life-threatening condition. It’s not worth the risk. Call your doctor.

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When to See a Doctor

If you experience any symptoms that make you think you may have a urinary tract infection, see your doctor. It could be a UTI, or it could be something else, such a sexually transmitted disease, so it’s important to receive an accurate diagnosis. That way, you can treat the issue with the appropriate medication and other remedies

The faster you can be treated, the faster you can relieve your symptoms. Plus, quick treatment will help prevent any medical complications that could happen if the infection spreads. 

An untreated bladder infection (cystitis) can lead to a more serious kidney infection. And an untreated kidney infection can lead to chronic kidney damage or infection outside of the urinary tract. 

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable UTI treatment with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms using our AI-driven symptom checker and, if needed, text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s board-certified, U.S.-based doctors can provide a treatment plan and prescription to resolve your symptoms as soon as possible.

Frequently Asked Question

How do you prevent a UTI after intercourse?
If you have recurrent UTIs, urinating after sexual intercourse may help reduce the risk of developing a UTI. Your doctor may also prescribe a low-dose antibiotic that you can use post-sex. Lastly, consider the birth control you're using. Spermicide, unlubricated condoms, and diaphragms can increase the risk of UTI. Discuss your options with a healthcare provider so that you stay protected against sexually transmitted infections and prevent pregnancy.
How do you stop a UTI before it starts?
The best way to stop a UTI before it starts is to follow some basic practices: Stay hydrated because drinking more water will make you want to pee more. When you do have the urge to go, go - try not to hold in urine. In the bathroom, always wipe from front to back after urination and bowel movement.
Why do I keep getting UTIs?
If you experience three or more UTIs in a year or two or more in a span of six months, you may have chronic UTIs, which are also called recurrent UTI. The risk factors for recurrent UTIs are the same as those for regular UTIs. Frequent sexual activity or having multiple partners, using spermicide, an enlarged prostate, incontinence, and menopause increase the risk of recurrent UTI. Talk to your doctor, who can help diagnose the problem and the best treatment plan.
Can I reduce the symptoms of a UTI?
Proper diagnosis of a UTI with a urine sample and/or a urine culture will allow your doctor to identify which bacteria is causing the infection. Then they can prescribe an antibiotic to fight that bacteria. The proper antibiotic will help alleviate any symptoms sooner. You can also talk to your doctor about prescription or over-the-counter painkiller medication to help with burning while urinating.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Chesney Fowler, MD

Dr. Fowler is an emergency medicine physician and received her MD from George Washington University. She completed her residency in emergency medicine at Christiana Care Health System. In addition to her work at K Health, Dr. Fowler is a practicing emergency medicine physician in Washington, DC.