Content Note: This blog post talks about vulvas, sex & pee, a lot.
Just before Christmas I contracted the UTI from hell & it hit me HARD.
UTI stands for Urinary Tract Infection & they’re surprisingly common – around half of people with vaginas will experience one in their lifetime (people with penises are less likely to get UTIs although they are often more serious) & a significant proportion of those people (including me) will experience recurring infections. Despite this, there’s very little information about them online. Don’t get me wrong, there’s loads of websites repeating the same five pieces of basic medical guidance, but in terms of more practical tips & advice on self-care there’s not much out there.
So, despite UTIs being one of the least glam blog post topics ever, I figured I’d write down some of my top tips on how to prevent & treat them, just in case someone else was in need of some support & solidarity.
How to prevent UTIs:
- Stay hydrated & pee regularly – The longer urine hangs around in your kidneys, bladder & urethra the more likely the bacteria which cause UTIs are to take hold, so the more you can keep things flowing the better. Medical advice on how much water you should be drinking is vague & often unsubstantiated but around a pint of water or juice every hour or so should be fine. The downside of this is that you will need to pee almost constantly but it’s important to avoid holding it in if at all possible. Urine is a waste product – there’s a reason your body is trying to get rid of it – so keeping it around is only going to cause problems.
- Pee after sex – You know how in films people have sex & then just hang about cuddling until they fall asleep? Bullshit. Those people have UTIs. Sex – & particularly rough sex – is a super easy way for bacteria to enter your urinary tract, so peeing immediately afterwards is an easy way to clear our your system & prevent any issues.
- Avoid “feminine hygiene” products – Rachel (from Currently Rachel) wrote an A+ post on vaginal hygiene which you can read here, but the short version is this: your body has been developed over millions of years to take care of itself. Yes, your vulva might not smell like a dozen red roses but that’s totally cool & how it should be, & attempts to “solve” that with “feminine hygiene” products are more likely to result in either a vaginal or urinary tract infection than any kind of “improvement”. So don’t risk it.
- Change your underwear regularly – Well, duh. Everyone changes their underwear at least once a day, right? Not exactly. There are weekends when I put on a pair of leggings on Friday night & don’t take them off until Sunday night. There are weeks where I wear the same pair of bed shorts every single night. There are fortnights when my mental health is so bad that the thought of tackling the pile of dirty laundry in order to get a clean pair of underwear seems impossible. But the truth is that clean underwear is key to keeping your vulva healthy & happy, so it’s worth doing even if you’re just lounging about the house.
- Change up your birth control – This final point is more for those of you who struggle with recurring UTIs, but there are a couple of methods of birth control which may cause issues. The first is the diaphragm, which can press against the bladder, preventing it from emptying completely, & the second is spermicidal condoms, which can cause irritation making it easier for bacteria to take hold. Both these forms of birth control are fairly rare in the UK, but if you are using them it’s worth having a discussion with your GP about switching things up.
How to treat UTIs:
The main symptoms of UTIs are hard to miss: pain or burning when peeing, the need to pee being constant or coming on quickly, & pain in the lower abdomen. However, UTIs can vary in severity so even if you only have one or two symptoms it’s important to keep things in check.
- Consult medical professionals – In most cases, a UTI will go away on its own in 2-5 days. However, if you’re experiencing symptoms over a prolonged period or if your symptoms worsen (e.g. extreme pain, high temperature or blood in your urine) it’s important to seek medical help as soon as possible because UTIs can lead to complications, particularly if your immune system is already compromised. Even if your symptoms aren’t particularly bad I’d still recommend going to the pharmacy & picking up an over-the-counter cystitis medication. These usually come in the form of a powder which you dissolve in water & drink, & a full-course takes 3 days. This won’t cure your UTI but it can ease the pain, & is a helpful reminder to keep your water intake up.
- Drink as much water as humanly possible – If peeing hurts your natural instinct is to stop, but when you have a UTI it’s important to stay hydrated & flush out your system. I generally fill a 2l bottle of water & just sip from it constantly, refilling as soon as it’s empty. If possible, you should take time off while treating your UTI so you can focus on recovery, but if that’s not feasible & you don’t want to tell people you have a UTI you can always say that you’ve started one of those water drinking challenges as a cover.
- Make a bathroom nest – Drinking water constantly means peeing constantly & that’s good, but the constant jogs to the toilet can be pretty grim, so when things are bad I often make a little nest in the bathroom & just hang out on the loo. That way you can pee instantly whenever you need to & you don’t have to worry about not making it on time. I’ll often bring along a blanket, a little footrest, my water bottle, some snacks, & obviously my laptop or iPad for entertainment.
- Pick a UTI pal – The bathroom nest works best if you have a pal who can hang out with you, refill your water bottle & run out to get you snacks/medication. However, if you live alone or not with friends, even just having someone on Facebook messenger who knows what’s going on & can check in on you can be a massive help, especially if you have your UTI for a few days & are stuck inside alone.
- Use heat to ease the pain – UTIs can often cause pain in your lower abdomen & that pain can lead to muscle tension all across your stomach. An easy way to help ease the pain is with reusable heat pads which you can either buy online or make yourself (a handful of rice, inside a towel, secured with a hair band), which you can then rest on your stomach. A hot shower can also relax you & make you feel more human after a day spent living out of your bathroom.
Thankfully I’m now fully recovered from my not-so-festive UTI but I hope this advice is useful to some of you & all my love to any of you currently dealing with a UTI. Know that you are not being melodramatic, UTIs are awful, & you deserve lots of care & attention while you recover.