A person can help prevent a urinary tract infection (UTI) in several ways, including urinating after sexual intercourse, staying hydrated, and taking showers instead of baths.

Symptoms of a UTI can include a burning feeling when urinating or a persistent urge to urinate.

People of any age and sex can develop a UTI, but the risk increases, for example, when an individual is sexually active or has gone through menopause.

Females are more likely to develop a UTI than males due to having a shorter urethra that is closer to the rectum. The urethra is a tube that allows urine to leave the body.

This article explores risk factors for UTI, tips to help prevent UTI, and when to contact a healthcare professional.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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UTIs are very common among females, with around 40% to 60% of females developing one at some point during their lifetime. However, anyone can develop a UTI.

Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of a person developing a UTI, including:

  • previous UTIs
  • sexual activity
  • difficulties with hygiene, for example, in children who are potty training
  • an imbalance or change of bacteria in the vagina
  • pregnancy
  • age, for example, young children and older adults have a higher UTI risk
  • structural issues in the urinary tract, like an enlarged prostate

People can prevent UTIs in several ways.

Urinating after sex

For females, urinating after sexual intercourse is one way to help prevent a UTI, as when urine passes through the urethra, it takes the bacteria with it.

The amount of bacteria in the bladder can increase after sexual activity.

Stay well hydrated

Drinking water, or other hydrating fluids, may help a person urinate. A steady and vigorous urine flow may help push bacteria out of the urethra.

Some evidence suggests that cranberry juice may help prevent UTIs, in addition to other methods. However, further research is necessary.

Most people should aim to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid a day.

Take showers instead of baths

Bathwater contains dirt and bacteria from a person’s skin. Bacteria can reach the urethra when someone sits in a bath.

If an individual showers, the water is consistently running off their body, which means bacteria have fewer opportunities to enter the body.

In some cases, a person may only be able to take a bath instead of a shower. Avoiding bubble baths and other cosmetic bath additives may help reduce irritation to the skin around the vagina.

Minimize douching, sprays, or powders in the genital area

Some people use douches to wash the inside of their vagina.

However, douching products, including vinegar and baking soda, can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the vagina. This imbalance may result in infection and inflammation.

People should also note that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology does not recommend people use douches, sprays, or deodorants to manage vaginal odor.

A certain amount of vaginal odor is typical, but if a person notices any changes in their vaginal odor, they should speak with a doctor.

Wiping from front to back

For females, wiping from front to back, particularly after a bowel movement, stops bacteria from the rectum from entering the urethra.

Wiping front to back after urination also helps prevent bacteria from spreading in the same way.

Wear loose-fitting clothes

Loose, breathable clothes, particularly those made from natural fabrics, can help keep the urethra dry.

Tight-fitting clothes may prevent ventilation, so the area around the urethra warms, which promotes bacteria growth and can increase the risk of infection.

Switch birth control methods

Some people may find different types of birth control, such as a diaphragm, unlubricated condoms, or spermicide, may increase their risk of UTI.

People may find they get fewer infections when using lubricated condoms without spermicide or nonspermicidal lubricants.

A person should speak with a healthcare professional about which birth control methods may be most suitable for them.

Fully empty the bladder

People needs to give themselves enough time to fully empty their bladder when using the toilet.

Holding in urine or not fully emptying it may irritate the bladder and increase UTI risk.

Use liquid soaps

Solid bars of soap collect bacteria, which can then spread to the urethra if a person uses them to wash.

Liquid soap does not collect bacteria and may be a better option for someone who experiences recurrent UTIs. When choosing a soap, unscented and gentle formulations are least likely to irritate the urethra or vagina.

Use a clean and soft cotton washcloth

People should make sure to sterilize washcloths between uses. A clean washcloth will not collect as much bacteria as a dirty one. This males it less likely to contribute to a UTI.

The skin around the urethra and genital area is very delicate, so a cloth made from soft natural fibers is less likely to cause scratches or cuts, which can increase a person’s risk of infection.

Most people with a UTI recover after a short course of antibiotics. People should make sure to take the full course of antibiotics as their doctor has prescribed.

If, however, symptoms are still present after taking the antibiotics, a person should contact their doctor again.

Older adults or those with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, may respond to treatment differently, so they should keep their doctor updated if their symptoms worsen or do not ease with treatment.

Females are most likely to develop UTIs, but they can affect anyone.

Preventing a UTI often involves minor lifestyle changes, such as staying hydrated and practicing proper personal hygiene techniques.

People should contact their doctor if they think they have a UTI. Healthcare professionals can prescribe antibiotics, if necessary.

A person should also speak with their doctor about any changes in UTI symptoms or if treatment is ineffective.