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Infection Prevention

If you've ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), no doubt you remember the experience. Caused by wayward bacteria that enter the urethra and multiply, a UTI usually results in painful urination. Untreated, it can have serious health consequences.

About one in five women will have a UTI at some point and 20 percent of those will have a recurrence. While sexually active and perimenopausal women are most at risk, about 4 to 7 percent of pregnant women will get one, too. It's critical to seek treatment for a UTI during pregnancy: If the infection spreads to the kidneys, it can trigger preterm labor, according to Deborah Myers, M.D., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Here's how to reduce your odds of developing a UTI.

Causes: Bacteria entering and multiplying in the urethra cause a UTI. Sexual intercourse, waiting too long to urinate, and wiping from back to front can introduce bacteria into the urethra. If the infection spreads to the bladder, it's known as cystitis. Untreated cystitis can sometimes lead to a kidney infection.

Symptoms: Frequent and painful urination (often a burning sensation) as well as the urge to urinate when you don't need to are common symptoms. Others include fever, chills, nausea and vomiting, and lower back and pelvic pain.

Diagnosis: A urine sample is checked for elevated levels of bacteria and white blood cells.

Treatment: Antibiotics, such as Macrobid, are usually given in a three-day course. (Several antibiotics are considered safe to use during pregnancy.) An over-the-counter pain reliever such as Uristat can help ease discomfort.

Some women have found relief by using alternative treatment methods, such as acupuncture. When done together with a course of antibiotics, it can help decrease pain and reduce recurrence rates, according to Susan Kaplan, M.D., a urologist and licensed medical acupuncturist who treats patients in New York City.

Prevention: To help stave off infection, keep the vaginal and rectal areas clean, maintain a healthy diet, don't wait to urinate, and drink several glasses of water a day. Urinating before and after sex also helps, as does wearing cotton underwear so moisture won't be trapped and create a breeding ground for bacteria. (If possible, avoid wearing thong underwear.) Try not to drink liquids that irritate the bladder, such as alcohol and citrus juices, and skip douching, which kills the "good" bacteria that help promote vaginal health.

There are protective foods that can help as well: Yogurt, which contains active cultures, is a source of good bacteria, while cranberry juice and blueberries have been shown to help prevent bacteria from adhering to the bladder. For some women, an antibiotic may be prescribed to be taken after sex. For more information, visit