8 common myths about curing UTIs that you need to stop believing
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common, especially in women, with many sufferers experiencing more than one in their lifetimes.
- But they can also be very uncomfortable and cause a host of painful symptoms - they can even spread to your kidneys if left untreated.
- There are plenty of supplements and at-home "remedies" designed to help with a UTI, but some of them don't work or are flat out dangerous.
- Drinking cranberry juice hasn't been proven to be any more effective than drinking water when it comes to getting rid of a UTI.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are very common, especially in women, with WebMD reporting that about half of all women will experience at least one in their lifetime, with many experiencing recurring infections.
But just because they're common doesn't make them any less uncomfortable - UTIs often cause symptoms like pelvic pain and painful urination and it can spread and worsen when left untreated.
There are many commonly known at-home "remedies" that many believe will help treat or relieve symptoms of a UTI, but many of them aren't actually effective and some are flat-out dangerous for your health.
Here are eight things that won't actually effectively help you get rid of a UTI.
Cranberry juice and supplements don't seem to have any substantial impact on a UTI.
One of the most popular at-home tips for curing or preventing UTIs, drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry supplements is often believed to help clear out UTI bacteria from the urinary tract while helping to prevent future infections from developing.
Whether you're currently experiencing symptoms of a UTI or simply trying to prevent one from happening, all three experts told INSIDER that evidence linking cranberry juice to helping with UTIs is limited and conflicting.
"To date, cranberry juice or cranberry tablets have not been shown to reduce or cure UTIs in studies," said Sandra Fleming MD, an OB/GYN at the Women's Wellness Center in Wellesley, MA. "There does not appear to be any harm in taking cranberry pills but [the high sugar content in cranberry juice] can cause gastrointestinal issues and is therefore not recommended for urinary tract infections."
"Drinking fluids in general - whether with water, cranberry juice, etc. - can help to flush out the bladder and as well as excessive bacteria," said Dr. Allison Hill, OB/GYN at Los Angeles Obstetricians & Gynecologists. "Staying hydrated helps, but it doesn't have to be with cranberry juice."
Trying to power through and "let it pass" without going to the doctor can be dangerous and risky.
That said, trying to clear the infection on your own by "flushing" it out with excessive liquid intake isn't a good idea, according to all of our experts.
"It is important to seek treatment by your gynaecologist or primary care doctor if you think you have a UTI," Dr. Fleming told INSIDER. Delayed treatment can result in a worse infection, requiring more and/or stronger antibiotics. It can also cause a more serious kidney infection, possibly requiring hospitalisation and intravenous antibiotics."
"If symptoms are escalating or have the signs of going into the upper urinary tract and kidney - such as fever and back pain - a patient needs to seek medical attention," Dr. Yvonne Bohn, OB/GYN at Los Angeles Obstetricians & Gynecologists told INSIDER. "Not everything that burns or causes symptoms of a UTI is a UTI. Vaginal infections, pelvic tumours, and herpes infections can mimic a UTI, so it's best to see a doctor to be sure that your symptoms are really from a UTI and not something else."
Douching won't help you get rid of a UTI and it could mess with your vaginal bacteria.
There is no shortage of vaginal douching products on the market designed with all sorts of claims in mind, from preventing pregnancy to "cleaning" the vagina, but all of our experts agree that douching can cause a host of health issues and it isn't actually helpful for a urinary tract infection.
"Douching removes harmful bacteria but also our good bacteria," said Dr. Hill. " [It] can lead to an overgrowth of anaerobic (bad) bacteria, upsetting the natural balance of your vagina."
Regularly taking antibiotics as a preventive measure comes with some risks.
For patients who regularly experience UTIs, some doctors will prescribe routine antibiotics, often in low doses and for long periods of time. But the experts suggest this can lead to resistance to antibiotics, which could cause issues when a patient needs them for another infection and they no longer work, and it has to do with that delicate balance of "good" and "bad" bacteria in our bodies.
"Although daily antibiotics can reduce the number of UTIs in women with recurrent infections, it is not without risks," said Dr. Fleming. "Daily antibiotics can increase the chance of becoming resistant to antibiotics. It can also eliminate the normal bacteria in your body, which is very important to good health, and can result in vaginal and oral yeast infections, as well as gastrointestinal symptoms."
Ultimately, you'll want to weigh the pros and cons with your doctor.
Experts say vitamin C supplements are likely useless at best and harmful at worst.
Although some studies have claimed that vitamin C supplements are helpful for preventing urinary tract infections, all experts are not convinced.
"It is likely harmless in small doses, but long term use of high doses (greater than 2,000 milligrams daily) can cause significant side effects including gastrointestinal upset, abdominal pain, inflammation of the oesophagus, bowel obstruction (blockage), fatigue, headache, sleepiness, insomnia, and kidney stones. It can also interfere with other medications you may be taking," Fleming told INSIDER.
Before taking any vitamins or supplements, check with your doctor, who can determine the potential benefits for you.
Skimping on fluid intake to prevent painful urination won't make your UTI go away.
One of the hallmark symptoms of a UTI is painful urination, but you should not try avoiding using the bathroom by skimping on fluid intake.
Drinking more water might not be enough to cure your UTI, but it certainly helps, explained Dr. Fleming. "It has long been believed that increased fluid intake is beneficial for women who get recurrent urine infections, theoretically because it helps dilute the urine, clearing bacteria from the urine."
She added that this was supported by a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, which found that women with recurrent UTIs who increased their fluid intake reduced their chances of getting a UTI by 50%.
Certain antibiotics aren't actually that helpful for treating a UTI.
Even though antibiotics are currently the only way to effectively clear an infection, not all antibiotics are designed to treat a UTI, and only your doctor will know the best course of treatment for you.
"The antibiotic chosen to treat a UTI depends on the strain of bacteria in your urine and your general health," Dr. Fleming told INSIDER. "Lab analysis of your urine with a culture can tell your gynaecologist or general practitioner what bacteria strain you have and what antibiotic would be most effective."
Grabbing miscellaneous antibiotics from your medicine cabinet to avoid a trip to the doctor probably won't be helpful and it comes with risks.
Even if you've been treated for a UTI in the past, it's probably a smart idea to visit the doctor. "There is no way to know which antibiotic is best for a UTI without doing a urine culture," said Dr. Hill. "This involves collecting a sample of urine and sending it to a lab where they will analyse it to determine which bacteria is causing the infection and which antibiotic it is sensitive to."
Taking medication that was previously prescribed or medication that's expired might not be effective in entirely clearing an infection, so you should see your doctor as soon as you can to determine the best course of action.
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