How to treat urinary tract infections

For women, that burning sensation when you urinate usually means one thing–a urinary tract infection (UTI). 1 in 5 women suffer at least one such infection—commonly known as cystitis—at least once a year, while men suffer UTIs less frequently.

If you're prescribed antibiotics, be sure to finish the course. Meanwhile, drink cranberry juice—it really works—and follow the following advice to shorten the infection and ease the pain.


Natural remedies

  • When the urine is alkaline, as happens in strict vegetarians, the herb uva ursi is particularly recommended. Others can also use the remedy, but should, temporarily, follow a strict diet that includes plenty of fruit and vegetables and very little meat.


    Take tablets or capsules according to the manufacturer's instructions. Stop taking this herb when you feel well again, and do not take it for longer than a week, as long-term high doses can cause liver damage. If you're taking uva ursi, don't also take vitamin C at the same time; it will make your urine more acidic and counteract the beneficial effects of the herb. (Caution: Do not take uva ursi if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you are trying to fall pregnant.)

  • Goldenseal is a natural weapon against the E. coli bacteria, the culprit behind so many cases of UTI. It not only fights bacteria but also stimulates your immune system and helps to heal inflammation in the urinary tract. Take 500–1000mg of goldenseal root extract once a day for up to a week.
  • Ease the sting with a sitz bath. The warmth of the water helps to reduce pelvic discomfort. Add a few drops of sandalwood essential oil; this herb is used in Ayurvedic medicine to combat urinary tract infections.


Healing teas

  • Make a cup of garlic tea. It sounds pretty disgusting, but if you're suffering cystitis pain, you'll try anything. Garlic contains powerful bacteria-killing compounds that make it ideal for battling the bugs that cause UTIs. Peel a couple of fresh garlic cloves, mash them well, then drop them into warm water and let them steep for 5 minutes before drinking.
  • To help your immune system fight the infection—and boost your fluid intake at the same time—make echinacea tea using tea bags or by steeping 2 teaspoons of the raw root in hot water. Drink 3 cups of this tea a day.
  • Make a tea of lovage (a member of the carrot family) by pouring a cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoons of minced, dried lovage root. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain and drink. This garden herb contains components with anti-inflammatory and bacteria-killing powers. It's also a diuretic, which helps to flush out the system.

    Read more: The health benefits of herbal tea

  • Try drinking nettle tea. Nettle is a diuretic that will make you urinate more, which will help to flush harmful bacteria out of your system. Use a teaspoon of the dried herb to a cup of hot water. Drink a cup a day.
  • Buchu is a traditional remedy for inflammatory diseases of the urinary tract; it was used by native South Africans for this purpose and adopted by the Dutch when they settled in Africa.
  • Parsley has natural diuretic properties and so helps flush the bladder of problem-causing bacteria. Simmer 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley in 1 litre of water, steep for 15 minutes and strain. Drink the liquid over a period of an hour to give your bladder a good flushing out.


Cold drinks

  • At the first sign of infection, mix a cold, frothy drink with bicarbonate of soda. Dissolve 1/4 teaspoon of bicarb in 125ml water. Drink 2 glasses of plain water, then the mixed drink. The bicarb makes the urine less acidic, which reduces the stinging or burning sensation when you urinate.
  • Drink a glass of water every hour. Flooding your urinary tract with water flushes out bacteria. Also, the more water you drink, the more you dilute your urine, so it's less irritating.
  • Scientific research has shown that cranberry juice really does help women get rid of urinary tract infections faster. It also helps to prevent them occurring in the first place. There's nothing in the juice to stop bacteria from multiplying, but it contains a chemical that prevents bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urinary tract. And, if bacteria don't stick, they are easily flushed away by urine. Drink a 300ml glass every day, both as a way to prevent urinary tract infections and to treat them.
  • Avoid citrus drinks, tomato juice, coffee and alcohol. All of these drinks may make urination more painful.


Severe infections

See a doctor if you have any symptoms of cystitis—running to the toilet every 10 minutes and an excruciating burning sensation when you urinate—that persist after 24 to 36 hours of home treatment.

You also need to see the doctor if the burning sensation is accompanied by a vaginal or penile discharge; if the symptoms are accompanied by back pain, shivering or a temperature; or if there is blood in your urine.

Also see a doctor if you get recurrent attacks of cystitis even after taking preventive measures, or if you are pregnant.

How to talk to your doctor 

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