I’ve noticed that there is a fair amount of practical ignorance around cystitis, urinary tract and kidney infections and other similar problems. This is just a list of small but common-sense defences. It’s a reminder for me, too (even after 15 years’ practise, I forget sometimes). I hope they help you.
I’m in the throes of recovering from another one myself, so let’s get this out of the way: there are no guarantees, Consult Your Doctor, and this is just what years of urinary trouble have taught me. The things listed here have worked for me, in that I have managed to reduce my own susceptibility drastically. The information is gleaned from other sufferers, my doctor and specialist, my training in Traditional Oriental Medicine, and – yes, websites. I filtered my information with a fine-tuned BSmeter and checked the online credentials of the websites I chose. Please do the same*.
If you need surgery, they will not help much until afterwards – before my op in 2004 I was getting 12 – 15 bladder infections annually#. See: no guarantees. An umbrella won’t stop the wind blowing water in your face, but it will usually prevent you getting soaked.
Right. Now that's out of the way, on to: 22 ways to Avoid Kidney Infections!°ǂ
1. Don’t be brave. If you suspect it, go to a doctor already. And take the antibiotics if the pee-stick says you have an infection. I am all for alternative/complementary medicine and all that but here is one of the lines I draw: Do Not Mess With The Kidneys. (Go to your aromatherapist, reflexologist, shiatsu/acupuncture or whatever person by all means. And if they’re worth their degree, they’ll send you to a doctor for this. Do Not Mess With The Kidneys.) Even if it means eating bread and jam for a month.
2. If you have an infection right now: Drink loads and loads of water, keep warm, take your antibiotics, eat lots of yoghurt, and be nice to yourself. After it’s cleared, take it easy for a while. It may seem trivial, but your body has fought off a serious infection even if your symptoms aren’t that uncomfortable. You may well feel more tired than usual for a while afterwards. Cancel that marathon.
3. If you’re getting a lot of infections, insist your doctor takes lab samples, investigates further, and refers you to a specialist if those actions don’t give answers. If your doctor blows you off, find another one who will listen to you.
4. If this all seems overwhelming, pick one or two and stick to them until they’re habitual. Then add to them. Again, the principle of Apply Brain Here, um, applies. If there are reasons something isn’t valid to you, you can probably think of a workaround.
5. Buy cranberries, or cranberry extract if you can. Add a few to your cereal, or your salad, or… you get the picture. Eat a few every day. I don't know why, but my doctor says there's a chemical in there that helps bladders resist the bacteria that can gather there.
6. Don't drink carbonated drinks (sodas, for you on the American continent, I think). This means if it's fizzy, don't drink it. Sugar-free, caffeine-free don't count. Again, I don't know why but my doctor said so to a friend who got kidney crystals and I reckon, what's bad for the kidneys will exacerbate or encourage infections. So this is a stretch of logic, but I believe not unreasonably so.
7. Bicarbonate of soda (organic to avoid the mineral salts added) helps to rebalance your alkalinity. A teaspoon in a half-glass of water first thing in the morning, followed by another glass of water, does wonders for the burning sensation. Don’t substitute this for a medical visit. If you do, don’t blame me. Also, it's cheaper than the bought stuff, and you're better off getting your Vitamin C from oranges and berries, anyway.
8. Food can be medicinal. If you can get it, buchu tea is great for the urinary system. And honey is good for the immune system in general. Yoghurt (both internal and external uses) is great for restoring balance. Try to get as much of your medicine in food, and your bills go way down.
9. Keep warm. If you’re susceptible to urinary system problems, please for the love of Michael (or Michelle) don’t expose your belly or lower back to cold. The muscle tension this creates will exacerbate any problems. Yes, I will never win the Most Fashionable Of The Year. I also love my health more than I love my image. It bears repeating: Do Not Mess With The Kidneys.
10. Be active. When you're healthy, I mean. If you have an infection right now, see #3. Physical exercise might not be directly related (this is a different subject and I’ll be looking into it… sometime…) but it will directly increase your levels of energy, immunity, and muscle tone (including the pelvic floor). And the better-toned your pelvic floor, the better in general, for many things aside from nasty bugs. Plus you’ll just feel better. Win-win, say I.
11. Sleep well and enough. Yes, what has sleep got to do with bladders, right? The answer is this: if you’re worn out and run down (after a while the two go together, and by that time you’re too worn out to notice) you will be more susceptible to infections, and feel less able to deal with them. Plus, you won’t have as much resources available for your body to fight the bugs, so the infection will last longer.
12. Wear natural-fibre underwear. Yes, I know that they're not often sexy, but hey: how sexy is an infection?
13. Drink loads of water. Yes, I mean water. Over and above anything with caffeine, sugar, milk or anything else added. Yes, power- or energy drinks DON'T COUNT. See the caffeine and sugar part of the point. Yes, I mean loads. 2 - 5 litres depending on the season and your level of physical activity. You should be peeing often. Which leads me to:
14. Carry a small bottle of water with you. Take sips often (e.g. when you leave class, after you’ve concluded a phone call, when you get into/out of the car). Use your regular activities as mnemonics. Refill it when it’s empty, every time. You’d be amazed how much water you can drink when it’s in small sips throughout the day.
*Note: from here on, things get rather blunt. I care about your health, not your sensibilities. I am also generalising about your activities. If you can’t bear references to wobbly bits, funky bits, or you are oversensitive about your ethics, self-image and so forth, Stop Reading Here. I’m not forcing you to do anything, and there are plenty of other websites out there. Many of them are far more entertaining. *
15. Don't knyp, hold it in, hang on, or be brave. (Why, oh why, do workplaces look down on physical needs? Why is a stretched bladder seen as a good and productive thing? AAAARGH, etc.) When you need to, go. If you can't feel it, go every two hours, just in case.
16. Insurance is a good thing. Make certain your bladder is empty. If you're used to holding on, your bladder stretches and you may not get the right messages. Try this out. If it has results (you know what I mean), do this each time you go. If you’re a woman in a public loo and therefore hovering over the seat, consider it a small savings on your gym fees. Once you’re done, lean a little forward and press just above your pubic bone with your fingers held together, directing the pressure into your bladder and down under the pubic bone. (Please don’t bruise yourself; you don’t need to use that much pressure). Use a stroking motion to make sure your bladder really is empty.
17. Specifically for ladies: wipe front-to-back. Always.
18. Keep clean. A useful wash is 2 drops of tea tree oil and 3 drops of bergamot in 15 ml vodka (or any kind of alcohol you have around), in one litre of water that you’ve boiled and cooled. Store it in a dark glass bottle with a metal screw-top (corks and plastic and essential oils severely do not love each other) next to the loo. To apply, shake vigorously, damp a bit of toilet paper and wipe (front-to-back, of course)**. Use after every pee.
i. If you have any doubts about the above remedy, don’t use it. Consult your local qualified aromatherapist (I studied it, but didn’t complete the course. I don’t count.) And check on a non-sensitive (i.e. not mucous membrane, not wobbly bits, areas with skin) hours before you try it. Apply Your Brain is appropriate in all internet advice.
19. Also for ladies: take extra care with your hygiene while you’re bleeding. Everything there is close together!
20. Pee before you have sex.
21. During sex: use organic lubricant (i.e. not baby/mineral oil). Plenty of it. One, it’ll feel nice and two, it’ll reduce physical damage. The principle applies to boys as well as girls, active and passive†.
22. After sex: Go to the bathroom. Pee, and wash yourself. Yes, it kind of kills the golden cuddle-glow (especially in the middle of a severe winter), but only until you realize that doing these things is another kind of love, and not necessarily exclusive. Do this whether you use a condom or not (Please do!). If you can, install a bidet.
All of these things are what I’ve learned over many, many years. The experience was painful to body, soul and wallet. I hope it’s less so for you. Good luck.††
* A Hint: if the only remedy is what the website is trying to sell, Run Don’t Walk Run Away.
# When I wasn’t using them, I had more.
° If you know of anything I’ve overlooked / forgotten / don’t know, please do mention them. Any sales pitch or similar will get edited out or deleted. Anything else that holds up to research may get added to this list (with credits). Feedback that says, “Hey, you forgot...” or “I thought...” is appreciated. Feedback that says, “you suck dead bears, go off and die,” will get laughed at, unless it also points out something I forgot/overlooked/didn’t know, in which case it might get laughed at and added to the list with credits and an apology. 'Kay?
ǂIf you print this out and take it to your doctor – you’re welcome to – and your doctor laughs and giggles, I’d like to know that, too. And what they said about it. Thanks!
** Do not use more than 5 drops total. Do not skip the shaking thoroughly step unless you enjoy having burned funky bits.
†I don’t have to be more detailed than that, right?
†† Disclaimer: I am not a supplier of any of the goods, remedies or products mentioned here. If this changes, I will change this footnote when the article is updated.