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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : I am a young woman with frequent urinary tract infections. The good news is that they have always been just bladder infections. My kidneys are never involved. Any suggestions regarding prevention and/or treatment?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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November 29, 2012
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A:

Women are much more likely than men to have urinary tract infections (UTIs). And it’s common for women to get them again. Doctors call this problem recurrent UTIs. In a study of college women, about 25% had a second infection within 6 months of the first one.

Doctors define recurrent UTIs as:

  • 2 or more infections within 6 months, or
  • 3 or more infections within 1 year

Risk factors for recurrent UTIs include:

  • Frequent sexual intercourse
  • Use of a spermicide
  • A shorter distance between the opening of the urethra and the anus compared to other women
  • A higher population of bacteria in the vagina that tend to cause urinary tract infections

There are many ways that could help decrease the number of UTIs:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Urinate as soon as possible after sex.
  • Try a different method of contraception if you use a spermicide.
  • Consider taking a probiotic. This may help decrease the number of UTI-causing bacteria that live in the vagina.
  • Consider drinking cranberry juice. However, studies on the effectiveness of this strategy are not conclusive.

If none of the above help, discuss antibiotics with your doctor. You could:

  • Take one dose of a prescribed antibiotic after sex.
  • Take an antibiotic every day.
  • Start a three-day course of an antibiotic as soon as you feel UTI symptoms.

There are some things to consider when deciding whether or not to take antibiotics for prevention. For example, taking a lot of antibiotics can cause diarrhea. Also, you increase your chance of having a UTI resistant to the usual antibiotics.

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