- urinate regularly, at least every 3-4 hours;
- empty the bladder each time (women should stand up, count to 10, then sit down and try a second time);
- pass urine before and shortly after intercourse; avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, citrus fruits, strawberries, and asparagus, which may all irritate the bladder;
- eat probiotic yoghurt and/or take probiotic supplements, which have been shown to reduce cystitis recurrence;
- avoid spermicides and a diaphragm for birth control, as they can trigger UTIs by altering the bacteria in the vagina;
- always wipe your bottom from front to back after using the toilet;
- don't sit for long periods in a wet, tight swimsuit after you go swimming;
- and wear loose-fitting cotton underwear rather than tight synthetics.
July 19-25 is Wee Week (www.kidney.org.au), and — seeing as one in five women will suffer at least one urinary tract infection (UTI), or cystitis, every year — it's a good time to learn how to prevent or at least shorten the infection, and ease the awful pain (not for nothing do sufferers describe it as being like "weeing razor blades").
Drink up. Drinking water helps to flush out organisms in and around the bladder before they can cause an infection. Aim to drink at least two litres of water daily. Also, the more water you drink, the more you dilute your urine, so it's less irritating.
Try a bicarb boost. At the first sign of an infection, mix ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in 125ml water. Drink a glass of water, then the bicarb drink. The bicarb makes urine less acidic, which reduces the stinging sensation when you urinate.
Pick a herb. Try drinking nettle tea; it is a diuretic which will make you urinate more, flushing bacteria out of your system. Marshmallow, lovage and parsley are also diuretic, plus they have anti-inflammatory properties. The antiseptic herb uva ursi, or bearberry, is particularly recommended, while antibacterial goldenseal is a natural weapon against the E. coli bacteria which causes so many UTIs. Buchu, a traditional South African herb, has also been shown in lab studies to be effective against E. coli.
Pucker up. Cranberry juice is perhaps the best-researched remedy for UTIs. Its action is due to condensed tannins (proanthocyanadins) which prevent harmful bacteria from sticking to cells lining the urinary tract. Two glasses a day should be ideal, and it should be sugar-free, for optimal results.
Consider alternatives. Homoeopathy may be effective for interstitial cystitis, a condition which can be triggered by trauma, but where no actual bacteria is present. An English study showed that the homoeopathic medicine Staphysagria (which comes from a flower) helped a constant urge to urinate associated with suppressed anger and abuse. Cantharis is also prescribed for acute cystitis. A qualified homoeopath would be able to make up an individual treatment for you — visit www.homeopathy.org.au. Some small studies indicate that injury to nerves of the lower back can cause cystitis-like symptoms, and that chiropractic adjustment can help.
Help yourself. If you're prone to recurrent UTIs, you should:
Know when to get help. See a doctor if the burning sensation is accompanied by a discharge, back pain, shivering or a temperature, or if there is blood in your urine.
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Australian Women's WeeklyToday 11:36am