To help prevent bladder infections (also known as urinary tract infections or cystitis), women should drink more water, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine in November 2018. It has long been thought that this can reduce recurrences of these common infections, but research has been scant.
As any woman who’s had one knows, the symptoms are unforgettable, including frequent or intense urge to urinate (even if the bladder is empty), pressure or tenderness in the lower belly, painful urination, and cloudy or even reddish (from blood) urine.
Researchers randomly divided 140 premenopausal women in Bulgaria with recurrent bladder infections (at least three episodes in the previous year)—who habitually didn’t drink a lot of fluids—into two groups: Half consumed 1½ liters (a little more than 6 cups) of water a day on top of their usual low fluidintake; the other half continued their usual fluid intake (less than 1½ liters a day). The women in the water group were provided three half-liter bottles of water a day, which they were instructed to drink starting at each meal.
Over 12 months, the water group experienced 111 episodes of cystitis, compared to 216 in the control group—or 1.7 versus 3.2 episodes per person, on average—about a 50 percent reduction.
Increasing fluids may help reduce infections by diluting and flushing bacteria from the bladder. The study was sponsored by Danone Research, which supplied the bottled water—but, of course, any water, including tap water, would do. (Tap water also has an environmental edge, since it involves no plastic bottles ending up in landfills or oceans.)
It isn’t known, however, whether this water remedy would help women who already drink a lot of fluids, those who have fewer recurrent infections, or postmenopausal women, since the study did not include them. But it’s easy to do and safe. And it could have important public health benefits, potentially reducing the need for antibiotics (the primary treatment for these infections), the overuse of which has been contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.
Other proposed preventive measures for cystitis—which still need more research to back their effectiveness—include not delaying urinating, voiding after sexual intercourse, and maintaining good personal hygiene.
This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.
Also see Urinary Tract Infections.