Most of us have had the experience of a minor health irritation that turned into a big problem. Perhaps you thought you had a cold but ended up with pneumonia. Or a small splinter led to a nasty infection. Urinary tract and bladder infections are similar. They might seem like a small problem at first. But they can spread to the kidneys and cause further damage. And doctors tend to treat them by throwing antibiotics at them, contributing to the problem of antibiotic resistance.
Plus, once you have one, these infections often come back. Let me tell you how to recognize an infection quickly, deal with it right away, and avoid these issues in the future.
There are a few different ways to tell if you have a bladder infection or a urinary tract infection (UTI).
The less-surprising symptoms of a UTI or bladder issue include urine that’s cloudy, bloody, or foul-smelling; a sensation of pain or burning during urination; urinary incontinence; waking up throughout the night to urinate; a strong, frequent urge to urinate, even if you just did so; a weak stream or passing only a small amount even if you felt the need to go strongly; difficulty emptying the bladder; and a fever below 101°F.
If the infection spreads to the kidneys, you may experience chills; shaking; night sweats; fatigue; a high fever; pain in the side, back, or groin; flushed or red skin that’s warm to the touch; nausea; vomiting; and even severe abdominal pain.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you may need to see your doctor for a urine test. This can help confirm the presence of bacteria in the bladder. And you’ll need to start taking steps to clear the infection up and keep it from coming back. Once you’ve had one UTI, it’s pretty easy for it to become a recurrent problem.
Note: You should keep UTI and bladder infections in mind if you provide care for an older adult. Some surprising symptoms of these conditions include mental changes and confusion. An older adult experiencing these issues may not be able to report on the other symptoms. So if a loved one suddenly seems confused or not like him or herself, keep an infection in mind as a possible cause.
How to Treat a UTI or Bladder Infection Naturally
First, if you do have an infection that requires antibiotics, you need a good probiotic. Increasing bacteria might seem like a bad strategy when you have an infection. But probiotics help support the friendly bacteria that can kick out harmful ones. And they’ll help you repopulate your gut and the rest of your body with the good guys after the antibiotic knocks everything out.
Once you’re done with the antibiotic, stick with the probiotic. Research suggests that ongoing probiotic use can help prevent recurrent UTIs. And we know that probiotics are great for other aspects of your health too.
Next, try D-mannose, a simple sugar compound. This can help treat and prevent both acute and chronic UTIs. D-mannose seems to help keep bacteria from adhering to the urothelium, the tissue lining the bladder and urinary tract.
In one study, researchers gave women D-mannose twice a day for three days and then once a day for 10 days. The women experienced significant improvements in most of their UTI symptoms. When the women continued to take D-mannose for six months, their infection recurrence rate dropped to 4.5%. In contrast, one-third of the control group that did not receive D-mannose experienced another UTI.
One of the more unpleasant symptoms of a UTI is the urinary burning. To alleviate this painful sensation, take acutely homeopathic Cantharis 6c or 12x. Take one dose three to four times daily for two to three days. This is something to keep in your home first aid kit.
The Juice That Works Wonders for the Bladder and Urinary Tract
I also encourage all of my patients who are concerned about UTIs to drink unsweetened cranberry juice. If you’ve ever searched the Internet for UTI remedies, this is usually one of the first items to come up. And for good reason – it works. Cranberries are loaded with great phytochemicals, and research has found them to be particularly beneficial to urinary tract health.
Like D-mannose, cranberries help prevent bacterial adhesion. This makes it easier for the body to flush bugs out before they can grow and create an infection. The first randomized double-blind study of cranberry juice and UTIs linked regular consumption to significantly lower levels of bacteria in the urine.
As women are particularly susceptive to UTIs, much research has focused on us. In one study of 150 women suffering from recurrent UTIs, researchers gave the women either pure cranberry juice, concentrated cranberry extract, or a placebo. The UTI recurrence rate was 30%, 39%, and 72%, respectively. Clearly, the cranberry options made a big difference.
If you’re a mother or a grandmother, you might also be happy to know that studies have found cranberry juice can help children as well. One study of 84 girls ranging in age from 3 to 14 who had experienced more than one UTI in the previous year found that drinking 50 mL of cranberry-lingonberry concentrate dropped the recurrence rate to 18.5%. In contrast, nearly half of the placebo group had another UTI in the next six months. Just make sure you don’t give kids a juice that’s loaded with sugar. If they can’t handle the taste of unsweetened juice, try diluting a slightly sweet option with water. Or use stevia, organic erythritol, whey low, or anything natural to sweeten it.
Make These Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Infections
This trio of probiotics, D-mannose, and cranberry juice is my go-to for treating and reducing UTIs and bladder infections. But there are a number of lifestyle changes you can make as well to help reduce your risk. One of the most basic is to drink enough water. In fact, a study of premenopausal women conducted at UT Southwestern Medical Center found that drinking an extra 1.5 liters of water every day could drop the bladder infection rate in half.
The women enrolled in the study were generally healthy, but they had a history of repeated infections, and they drank less than 1.5 liters of fluid a day (the equivalent of about six 8 oz. glasses). The researchers divided the women into a water group and a control group. The water group drank at least 1.5 liters of fluid a day, while the control group maintained their normal drinking habits.
By the end of the year, 93% of the water group women had experienced two or fewer infections. But 88% of the control group had suffered from three or more! Overall, the women in the control group experienced approximately twice as many infections as the women in the water group. They had to be on antibiotics almost twice as often. And they went an average of just 85.2 days between infections, compared to 142.9 days in the water group.
Drinking water is a simple way to maintain your bladder and urinary tract health. I recommend adding lemon to your water to increase your vitamin C intake. Taking vitamin C is another great way to fight infection, so you can also add buffered vitamin C capsules to your regimen if you like.
A good number to shoot for is a minimum of six 8-oz glasses of fluid a day, unless you have a kidney problem or other medical issue that has your doctor recommending a different target. At least half of this fluid should be water. Keep in mind that excess caffeine and alcohol can be hard on the bladder as well. Consider switching some of your alcohol or caffeinated beverages to water if you need help reaching your fluid intake target. The switch will be a win-win for your bladder.
Increasing your fluid intake can help you avoid another risk factor: constipation. Excess stool in the colon can put pressure on the bladder. This can make it harder for the bladder to function properly. Eating high-fiber foods and exercising can help you avoid constipation too.
Eating well, avoiding white sugar, the nightshade family of foods and anything too acidic, and exercising will also protect your bladder and urinary tract by helping you maintain a healthy weight. In addition to regular full-body exercises, doing pelvic floor muscle exercises, like Kegels, can help you strengthen the muscles that keep urine in the bladder. Exercising and Kegels will aid in preventing urine leakage when you sneeze, cough, laugh, or make a sudden movement.
Beyond eating high-fiber, healthy foods, you may need to make some other dietary changes to promote bladder health. Some people find that artificial sweeteners, sodas, spicy foods, citrus, and tomatoes exacerbate bladder problems. If you haven’t been able to pinpoint the cause of your bladder problems, consider an elimination diet to rule out these factors.
Simple Tips for Avoiding Infections
Another more obvious step is to quit smoking. People who smoke are more likely to have bladder problems than those who don’t. And they’re also at greater risk of bladder cancer.
Instead of taking a smoking break, make sure you take regular bathroom breaks. You should aim to urinate a minimum of every three to four hours. Contrary to what you might think, “holding it” doesn’t strengthen the bladder muscles. It actually weakens them and invites infection.
When you do take your bathroom break, make sure you relax and empty the bladder fully. If you rush, urine may remain in the bladder. This can also increase your infection risk. To relax the muscles fully, women typically need to sit down. So if you’re in a public restroom, try using a seat cover rather than hovering. Remember to always wipe from front to back as well. This will help prevent bacteria from getting into the urethra, especially fecal bacteria after a bowel movement.
Women should also urinate after sex to help remove any bacteria that may have gotten into the urethra. And keep in mind that your birth control method can increase your risk as well. Both diaphragms and spermicides can make you more likely to end up with a UTI.
When you get dressed, choose cotton underwear and clothing that isn’t too tight. You don’t want to end up with moisture trapped around the urethra, as that creates a friendly environment for bacteria.
People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, may be more susceptible to bladder issues. Diabetes can harm the nerves surrounding the bladder, making it difficult to maintain proper control. Certain medications can also affect these nerves, so talk to your doctor if you’re struggling with increased leakage or a lack of an urge to urinate. Medications that soothe the nerves or promote sleep are some of the biggest culprits.
If your medical condition or an accident lands you in the hospital, you may need to be extra vigilant. Having a catheter can greatly increase your risk of a UTI or a bladder infection. It essentially creates a highway to the bladder that bacteria can zoom right down.
A UTI or a bladder infection can be a painful experience. And once you have one, you’re at increased risk of another. The good news is that the right lifestyle choices can go a long way towards helping you avoid these infections. And if you do end up with one, the combination of probiotics, D-mannose, and cranberry juice can help you clear it up and keep it from coming back. Knowing your risk factors and the signs to look for can help you avoid this nagging annoyance