Studies show that 50-60% of women will experience a urinary tract infection (UTI) in their lifetime. If you’ve ever had one, you know how miserable they can be. The good news is that several over-the-counter (OTC) remedies and lifestyle modifications can make a real difference.
What Is a UTI?
Your bladder is a sterile reservoir collecting the urine your kidneys make. Urine passes from the bladder to the outside of the body via a tube called the urethra. In women, the urethra is very short and located close to the vagina and rectum. This location makes it easy for bacteria to enter the urethra and bladder, setting the stage for a urinary tract infection.
UTIs usually start in the bladder but can travel into the kidneys. Rarely, an unchecked infection gets into the bloodstream and develops into a life-threatening condition called urosepsis.
- Burning during urination
- The urgent need to pee
- Frequently urinating small amounts
- Foul-smelling urine
- Blood in the urine
- Abdominal pressure and pain
- Sexual activity
- Poor hygiene
- History of prior urinary tract infections
An uncomplicated UTI is a bladder infection in an otherwise healthy person with a normal genitourinary tract. Traditional treatment for uncomplicated UTIs is prescription antibiotics, such as Macrobid, Bactrim, or Amoxicillin. But we now know that alternative OTC products can not only treat but prevent the recurrence of some UTIs.
Most Effective OTC Products to Use During UTI Treatment
An article in the journal Translational Andrology and Urology maintains that 25-42% of uncomplicated UTIs resolve without antibiotics and recommends trying the following:
- Probiotics: These supplements reduce the bacteria's ability to stick to the urinary lining, produce hydrogen peroxide-destroying bacteria, and create an acidic environment impacting bacterial survival. Probiotics also promote an anti-inflammatory response in cells.
- Cranberry Products: Cranberry juice, extracts, and tablets, interfere with the stickiness of common bacteria, discouraging attachment to the bladder wall.
- D-Mannose: This monosaccharide (simple sugar) impacts the ability of bacteria to stick to the lining of the bladder. You can try a supplement with cranberry and D-Mannose in one capsule.
***It is critical to mention that you should see a doctor if home treatments do not work within a couple of days.
Are There OTC Products That Can Help Prevent a UTI in the Future?
Unfortunately, once you have had one UTI, you are at increased risk for another. In fact, 27% of women will have a second UTI, and 2.7% will have a 3rd UTI within six months of their first one.
The statistics for repeat infections are sobering. So why do UTIs keep coming back?
- Incomplete treatment. In some cases, OTC treatment is not effective. Also, many people don’t finish antibiotics due to bothersome side effects or stop as soon as they feel better. This action results in a partially treated infection that will likely return with a vengeance.
- High-risk behaviors such as improper wiping, tub baths, or tight clothing encourage the re-growth of bacteria and yeast.
- Those with uncontrolled chronic health conditions like diabetes often have weaker immune systems.
- Frequent sex exposes the urethra to large amounts of bacteria.
Long-term management and prevention are essential in reducing your risk for repeat infections. There are a variety of alternative supplements for ongoing urinary tract health besides those already mentioned above.
- Methenamine hippurate turns into formaldehyde which kills bacteria in the bladder.
- Anti-inflammatory Chinese herbs like Huang Lian slow bacterial growth.
- Uva ursi (bearberry leaf) has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Garlic shows strong antibacterial effects in test tube studies.
- Green Tea contains substances called polyphenols which have antimicrobial properties.
- There is some evidence that vitamin A and vitamin C are helpful.
Always consult your healthcare provider before adding vitamins or supplements to your wellness plan. Remember, any untreated infection can be severe and have life-threatening consequences.
Lifestyle modifications are equally crucial for avoiding UTIs:
- Drink plenty of water.
- Pee after sex to flush bacteria from the urinary tract.
- Wipe front to back after toileting to avoid dragging bacteria toward the urethra.
- Avoid tub baths and hot tubs.
- Wear loose clothing.
- Remove wet swimsuits or sweaty clothing immediately.
- Promptly treat vaginal yeast infections.
- Refrain from powdered or scented products in the genital area.
- Abstain from bladder irritants such as alcohol, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners.
OTC Products That Can Reduce the Pain and Discomfort Associated with UTI Symptoms
UTI sufferers are desperate for relief. OTC treatments and antibiotics are effective, but it may take a few days before you feel better. In the meantime, to ease symptoms quickly, try the following over-the-counter products:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) can relieve pain and reduce fever.
- Phenazopyridine (Azo Urinary Pain Relief) reduces pain, burning, frequency, and urgency in a few hours. But be aware this product turns urine and tears orange, which can stain underwear and contact lenses.
- Cystex is a blend of methenamine, benzoic acid, and sodium salicylate that reduces UTI pain.
- A heating pad or hot water bottle will soothe and relax lower abdominal and back pain.
OTC Products That Can Help Reduce the Duration of a UTI
Start treatment at the first sign of a UTI. If you are otherwise healthy, start with OTC remedies and self-treatment methods, such as cranberry products, probiotics, and D-mannose. Equally important, stay well hydrated and pee often to flush bacteria out of your bladder.
If symptoms persist or worsen, do not wait to seek medical attention. A delay in treatment can lead to progressive infection and a longer treatment course.
More than half of all women will experience a UTI in their lifetime, but the research is encouraging. Self-management with OTC products and lifestyle modifications are effective options for many sufferers.
Bergamin, P.A., & Kiosoglous, A.J. (2017). Non-surgical management of recurrent urinary tract infections in women. Translational Andrology and Urology, 6(Suppl 2), S142-S152. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5522788/
Medina, M., & Castillo-Pino, E. (2019). An introduction to the epidemiology and burden of urinary tract infections. Therapeutic Advances in Urology, 11, 1756287219832172. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5522788/
Sihra, N., Goodman, A., Zakri, R., Sahai, A., & Malde, S. (2018). Nonantibiotic prevention and management of recurrent urinary tract infection. Nature Reviews Urology, 15, 750–776. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41585-018-0106-x#citeas
Tee-Melegrito, R. (2023, February 13). Which medication can help with a UTI? MedicalNewsToday.
Trill, J., Simpson, C., Webley, F., Radford, M., Stanton, L., Maishman, T., Galanopoulou, A., Flower, A., Eyles, C., Willcox, M., Hay, A., Griffiths, G., Little, P., Lewith, G., & Moore, M. (2017). Uva-ursi extract and ibuprofen as alternative treatments of adult female urinary tract infection (ATAFUTI): study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Trials. 2017, 18(1), 421. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5591533/
Wagenlehner, F., Lorenz, H., Ewald, O., & Gerke, P. (2022). Why d-Mannose May Be as Efficient as Antibiotics in the Treatment of Acute Uncomplicated Lower Urinary Tract Infections-Preliminary Considerations and Conclusions from a Non-Interventional Study. Antibiotics (Basel), 11(3), 314. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8944421/#:~:text=d%2Dmannose%20is%20a%20monosaccharide,d%2Dmannose%20in%20acute%20therapy
Williams, G., Hahn, D., Stephens, J.H., Craig, J.C., & Hodson, E.M. (2023). Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 4, CD001321. https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD001321.pub6/full
Juli Curtis BSN, RN is a freelance health and wellness writer and the owner of Write Health Right Now, LLC. She has been a nurse for over 30 years and enjoys travel, interesting food, and nonfiction. She lives near Little Rock, AR with her boxers Manny and Rizzo.
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