Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are extremely common, especially in women. Dealing with them is no fun and often requires frequent trips to the bathroom, pain when urinating, and soreness in the lower abdomen, back or sides. Many women turn to at-home remedies to tackle discomfort or try to change risky behaviors to avoid a repeat infection.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of myths out there about UTIs that can make recognizing the causes and finding effective relief difficult. Here, we separate fact from fiction so you can better avoid and treat UTIs.
Myth #1: Cranberry Juice Will Cure My UTI
The cranberry juice cure is one of the most commonly believed myths about treating UTIs. However, don’t for a minute think that a bottle of cranberry juice can replace a visit to your doctor or proper medication. It turns out cranberry juice isn’t nearly as effective as many people think.
“The data on cranberry juice and cranberry supplements with regard to urinary tract infections is inconsistent,” explained Dr. Pamela J. Levin, Assistant Professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology. “Though studies have demonstrated potential ability to decrease symptomatic UTIs, there isn't sufficient data to determine the duration of therapy or the dose of cranberry necessary to achieve effect.”
Myth #2: Tampons Cause UTIs
Some women think tampons make them more prone to developing UTIs since tampons are placed inside the body, while other feminine hygiene products are kept outside of the body. However, tampon use may be even more effective at preventing UTIs than pads. Tampons can keep the area dryer, leaving less of a chance for bacteria to flourish and cutting down on the risk of infection.
Myth #3: Bathing Suits Cause UTIs
While your bathing suit alone cannot cause a UTI, wearing a wet bathing suit for a prolonged period of time can create a breeding ground for bacteria. Bacteria thrives in warm and moist environments, and when it reaches your bladder, you’re at a higher risk of getting a UTI. Make sure to change out of your wet clothes as soon as you are finished swimming to reduce your risk.
Myth #4: Only Women Get UTIs
Women definitely get UTIs more often than men. This is because the urethra, the duct that carries urine out of the body, is shorter in women, allowing bacteria to more easily reach the bladder. However, this is still a myth, as men can and do get UTIs. UTIs are more common in men who have not been circumcised and suffer from other medical issues including incontinence, prostate cancer or urinary tract stones.
Another surprising fact is that children can also get UTIs. Uncircumcised boys younger than 3 months old and girls younger than 12 are at the highest risk for contracting UTIs during their childhoods. Some signs to look for in older children and teens with UTIs include complaints of pain while urinating, an increase in trips to bathroom, bedwetting and fevers. For toddlers and babies, it can be more difficult to recognize the signs of a UTI. However, fever and the inability to gain weight (especially in babies) may signal a UTI.
Myth #5: Sex Causes UTIs
This one is both a myth and a fact. The real myth lies in the belief that only sexually active women get UTIs. Sex can definitely play a role, though, as bacteria near the vagina can inadvertently get into the urethra during sexual contact. Urinating after sex is crucial because it will allow your body to flush out vaginal bacteria that tends to get pushed into the urethra during sex.
Does this mean that abstinence is a sure-fire way to protect yourself from UTIs? Think again. In fact, women are most at risk for getting UTIs while pregnant or experiencing menopause or perimenopause. This is due to the change of hormones in the urinary tract during these times. Pregnant women also experience growth of their uterus, which makes it more challenging to completely empty the bladder of urine, therefore increasing the risk of developing a UTI.
“The best plan of action is to talk to your doctor about symptoms of UTI, particularly if a pattern of recurrent symptoms has started,” Dr. Levin said. “Not all symptoms of UTI are actually an infection, so an appropriate workup and evaluation is necessary when repeated infections or symptoms of infection are occurring.”