Recurrent urinary tract infections were once a focal point the rest of my life revolved around. For a time, my UTI anxiety was such that I feared I would never return to what I had previously considered normal.
“When I look back at my experience with recurrent urinary tract infections, I have flashbacks of traumatic moments followed by lingering anxiety about when the next one would hit me.”
Was it possible to overcome constant UTIs and yeast infections? It took me around five years to find out that yes, I could. But to recover, I had to address a few main areas of my health.
Jump To Section:
- How My Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Began >>>>
- Recurrent UTI: The Highlights Reel >>>>
- Diet and Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections >>>>
- How Standard UTI Testing Failed Me >>>>
- Hormones, UTIs And Yeast Infections >>>>
- My Recurrent UTI Treatment Regimen >>>>
How My UTI Story Applies To You
Although I recovered from recurrent urinary tract infections to the point where I no longer had to take medication or supplements to manage my symptoms (they were completely gone), this isn’t a story about a miracle cure.
There is rarely such a thing when it comes to recurrent UTI. I promise I will provide more insight into what worked for me, but I do want to say this:
Thinking one person’s approach will work for everyone else is like saying you’ve found a single pair of jeans that fits everyone perfectly.
But before you jump to the next blog post promising a 24 hour cure, I’ll tell you why this story may apply to you. It’s about finding the root cause of your recurrent UTIs, and addressing it.
Only by addressing the root cause of frequent UTIs can you hope to break the cycle of symptoms and treatment. Breaking the cycle will likely mean sacrifices, and this is a story about permanent change for the better.
If there is one piece of advice I will freely give to other recurrent UTI sufferers, it’s that knowledge is the key to recovery.
Learn everything you can about why UTIs can become recurrent, other causes of lower urinary tract symptoms, and how your overall health can prevent you from getting well. Hopefully, my story will help.
My First UTI Gave No Hint Of The Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Ahead
If I could start this process again I would do it differently.
I had my first UTI at 23. The after-hours doctor asked, ‘Are you sure you don’t have your period?’ – clearly unaware of the danger created by patronizing a female in the midst of a UTI.
I managed to stay calm and suppress the urge to retort, ‘You think I can’t tell the difference between my period and blood coming out of my urethra??’ (But seriously, really?).
All I wanted was something to fix the pain, and for him to leave my sight immediately. He delivered in both respects.
The antibiotics worked within a few hours and I never thought about it again… Until nine years later.
As it turns out, I was really good at getting UTIs. If getting UTIs was a desirable skill, I nailed that skill for five years, with barely a break.
How My Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Began
I was going through a stressful relationship breakup, and selling my business, and was completely run down.
I was still exercising daily, and had a fairly healthy vegetarian diet, but stress took its toll.
The UTI hit me fast. The pain was just as intense as I remembered, but I didn’t panic quite as much as the first time. I knew I’d get antibiotics when I showed up at the emergency room.
Plus, I didn’t have time to think about it. Life was way too hectic for me to put extra energy towards my health.
Just as with my first UTI, the antibiotics worked and I dismissed it. But the symptoms crept back. A month later I was at a friend’s farm when it got so bad I had to make a run for the hospital.
Driving more than an hour was too much for me and I ended up squatting on the side of a dangerous road in the dark more than once.
“Recurrent urinary tract infections had officially become a part of my life, though I had no idea of this at time.”
The thing is, when it first hits you, it’s out of the blue, and you never imagine this is going to be your life now. You take antibiotics, it goes away, you’re generally healthy, so chances are it was just an anomaly.
Is It My Fault That I Keep Getting UTIs?
Even the second or third time you get a UTI it can seem like a bit of a coincidence. The words ‘recurrent urinary tract infections’ don’t really register at this stage. You figure you just haven’t been sleeping enough.
Or maybe you’ve been fighting a virus and your immune system is just having a rough time.
Denial is probably the most accurate word for this phase. I was just so certain the antibiotics would work every time. Even though they didn’t.
Selling my business and packing up my life for a move overseas was my priority, and the frequent trips to the doctor for antibiotics were more of a nuisance than cause for concern.
“I thought I was being responsible when I asked my doctor for antibiotics to take abroad with me ‘in case I got another UTI’. That optimism is almost laughable now.”
Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections: The Highlights Reel
A trip to the UK resulted in a UTI the day before my 30 hour flight home to Australia. Flying with a UTI was my worst nightmare.
I managed to get a single dose antibiotic from a walk-in clinic, but was still cracking sweats by the time I got to the airport.
Armed with copious amounts of water, I requested an aisle seat, and proceeded to drink fluids nonstop. I was using the bathroom every 20 minutes, like clockwork, and by the time I landed for my stopover in Hong Kong 13 hours later, I really thought I was on top of it.
How wrong I was. I boarded my flight for Sydney, and over the next 10 hours descended into fevers, chills, shakes and a little delirium.
At Sydney airport I missed my onward flight to Melbourne and broke down at the customer service desk. I barely remember stowing my bag in a locker and wandering around looking for help.
Fortunately, I was able to find the airport doctor, who prescribed antibiotics and anti-nausea pills. He assured me I needed them, and he was right. Within the next 30 minutes I was on the verge of throwing up – a new symptom of UTI for me.
I had forfeited my flight, but I didn’t care. I eventually made it home to Melbourne, a full 35 hours after the start of my journey, where I passed out for 20 hours. My body was defeated.
When UTIs Become A System For Measuring Time
“My life started to become broken into modules, based on UTIs.”
Like, ‘Which trip was that? Oh the one where I had the UTI when we were camping and I had to keep going outside in the cold to pee near that weird herd of sheep.’
Or, ‘Was that March or April? It must have been March, because I had that UTI at the same time as food poisoning and it was my sister’s birthday and I had to call her between vomiting and peeing blood.’
I know it’s gruesome, but that’s exactly what I want to illustrate. Just how recurrent urinary tract infections can become an everyday thing. Even though they hurt just as much, every single time and can be truly debilitating.
Could I Fight UTIs Without Antibiotics?
Three or four UTIs later I was living in a village in Greece. And when I say village, imagine a handful of houses on a hillside by the sea, hours from the nearest hospital.
And when I say houses, imagine a tiny, lovely, concrete box, with an outdoor bathroom beside an olive tree. It was a truly amazing experience, and I loved every minute of it – between UTIs.
I sat on the toilet in that outdoor bathroom for a few hours at a time, debating whether to take the antibiotics I had brought with me. I contemplated whether my kidneys were actually disintegrating and coming out through my urethra.
Recurrent urinary tract infections can be terrifying. But once I’d had half a dozen, I became dubious about the antibiotics. I looked for answers to questions like, ‘Can you treat a UTI without antibiotics?’
Maybe my body needed to fight this on its own to get better? Or maybe I would die in a remote village and my parents would have to expatriate my body.
Does Blood In My Urine Mean I Have A Kidney Infection?
The internet told me if there was blood in my urine, my kidneys were affected and I HAD to take antibiotics. So I took them.
I didn’t die in a little village in the middle of nowhere and I didn’t even tell my parents how close they had come to organizing an international funeral.
I was alive, but I wasn’t well.
Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Hindsight Tip #1:
I later discovered that blood in your urine doesn’t always mean your kidneys are involved. For many people I’ve spoken with, that’s just a typical symptom of a bladder infection. And no doctor I saw was ever concerned about my kidneys.
UTI symptoms are different for everybody, and symptoms you think are a UTI may actually be caused by something else entirely. Learn more about UTI symptoms and what causes UTIs. It pays to document all your symptoms, and discuss them with a doctor.
Recurrent UTI And Constant Yeast Infections
Frequent antibiotic use came with other side effects. The most obvious was yeast infections. Although this was a less painful experience than the UTIs, it was an even more constant companion.
Each time I took antibiotics, I would need to use over the counter antifungals. These would relieve the symptoms just long enough for the next UTI to take hold. This of course meant more antibiotics, then more antifungals.
Then more antibiotics, then more antifungals… You get the picture.
It felt as though I was never not taking something. I felt completely out of control of the state of my body. I had no confidence in its ability to find a better balance.
The antibiotics and antifungals had destroyed any semblance of a healthy microbiome in all areas, including my digestive tract.
Eventually the effectiveness of the antibiotics and antifungals lessened, and I would have just a few hours respite before the UTI and yeast infections would return.
“My UTI symptoms became constant at this point. I virtually had not a single moment where I wasn’t aware of discomfort in my urinary tract. And discomfort is mostly putting it lightly.”
I began to notice a link between digestive symptoms, yeast related symptoms and the frequency of UTI flare ups. There was hardly a moment that I felt symptom free. I’d had enough, and I decided to take what felt like drastic action.
Diet And Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections
I researched Candida (yeast), and quickly cut all processed sugar, fruits and grains from my diet. I was running and swimming every day, and avoided alcohol.
My digestive symptoms subsided somewhat, but the constant yeast infections and UTIs still plagued me.
After three months in Greece it was time to move to Berlin. While packing my bags, I made sure to take those UTIs with me…
I became acquainted with the German healthcare system pretty quickly. This meant finding a doctor who was willing to give me antibiotics whenever I got a UTI, and an extra prescription so I could self-administer them next time.
He also sent my urine to a lab a number of times (I lost count). Every time we’d get the results it would show raised leukocyte (white blood cells) levels, and ‘insignificant’ levels of bacteria or ‘contamination’, but generally nothing to report.
“According to the lab, I didn’t have a UTI. According to what I knew about my own body, I did, and it would not go away.”
The one thing the lab could easily identify was an overgrowth of vaginal yeast. By this stage, my digestive symptoms had returned to 24 hour a day abdominal pain. I had this low down, solid abdominal bloating that would not subside.
So I further restricted my diet. I transitioned from vegetarian to vegan, and implemented an intermittent fasting approach.
I maintained this for the next 9 months, and slowly, my body transformed from bloated, painful and symptomatic, to lean, strong, and free of digestive issues. Yet still, the UTIs and yeast infections remained.
How Standard UTI Testing Failed Me
I started researching and bringing information to my doctor about other organisms I wanted to test my urine for. He was happy to comply. He didn’t know what else to do to help me. Significantly though, he did believe that I had an infection.
Still the results were unhelpful. Specific organisms were not found. But other signs of infection were.
By this time, I was around 3 years in. I was really starting to lose my patience and my sanity. I tried different doctors. Same deal. They did tests. And while they were also sure I had an infection, they didn’t know what was causing it.
I was completely uninformed about testing, and why it wasn’t helping me figure this out.
Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Hindsight Tip #2:
I’ve since learned that standard UTI testing is very inaccurate. Many studies have proven that standard urine culturing techniques fail to identify infection in at least 50% of cases.
If you have received inconclusive or negative test results despite your symptoms, or if your treatment does not seem to work as it should, inaccurate testing could be the issue.
I encourage you to learn more about this issue, so you can take control of the situation and seek better care.
There are 7 main reasons your UTI test results could be wrong, and I’ve laid all these out for you (follow the link above), along with what you can do about it.
I Refused To Accept UTIs As My Future
It’s not in my nature to learn to deal with something that I know shouldn’t be. There is no way my body is built to crumble at the first hint of sex, or fatigue, or dehydration. I’ve always been stronger than that.
I’m pretty good at knowing exactly what is happening in my body and when. I’ve accurately diagnosed myself with injuries that have taken years to show up in scans. I’m my very own body whisperer.
So when this happened, it was a virtual kick in the guts, or more specifically, the bladder.
“Getting a UTI every few weeks or months doesn’t give you much breathing room to feel human. To get things done.”
There is a constant shadow hanging over you. Restaurant and bar reconnaissance isn’t about people anymore. It’s about toilets. You learn to scope out any venue for its bathrooms. At any given moment, I could tell you where the nearest public toilet was.
I never went anywhere without a remedy in my bag. For me, that meant carrying antibiotics 24 hours a day.
Holiday planning came with underlying anxiety, and relationships – don’t even get me started on how recurrent urinary tract infections impact those.
Too late… I’m on a roll.
UTI After Sex
Sex becomes a source of anxiety. You’re constantly calculating the probability of getting a UTI each time. Talk about a buzz kill.
Then afterwards, you do your best to leave it a respectable amount of time before you jump up and head to the bathroom to flush your urinary tract. Post-sex contented snuggling is NOT a thing when you have recurrent UTIs.
I’m terrified now to think how close I came to giving up. I’m not even sure what that would have meant. UTIs forever? With each episode a little sooner than last time?
I knew that in their mind that was a life sentence, and I refused to accept it. It was a wake up call.
Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Hindsight Tip #3:
It’s impossible for every practitioner to stay up to date with all the research on recurrent UTIs. If you feel that your doctor is unable to help you, you should feel comfortable looking for another doctor.
If you’ve received a diagnosis of Interstitial Cystitis or have been told that you are just prone to UTIs, yet you’re certain you should be able to get well, find a practitioner who can help you on that journey.
Learn about different approaches to recurrent UTI treatment, and read about one practitioner’s approach to chronic UTI and Interstitial Cystitis and more about Interstitial Cystitis testing.
I Stopped Taking Antibiotics For Recurrent UTI
I had tried every UTI home remedy I could find. Nothing helped.
I’d been fighting this for 3.5 years. Keeping my life together and keeping up appearances. I even managed to travel to the Balkans to volunteer for a few months.
Sarajevo was the turning point. I like to think of it as the final frontier.
I got a UTI that never went away. The symptoms stayed with me despite taking a longer course of two different types of strong antibiotics. These were prescribed to me as a ‘last resort.’
“Without finding out what was causing my UTI, I knew there was little chance of finding the right antibiotic and I wasn’t willing to continue taking them without being better informed.”
My body was suffering. It had become sensitive to everything.
I would get itchy daily, still had yeast infections constantly, and my contraceptive pill had ceased to control my cycle. I felt like a complete mess.
So I stopped taking antibiotics.
For me this was like taking a deep breath and jumping from a cliff into the sea, without knowing if I could really swim.
Hormones, UTIs And Yeast Infections
I also stopped taking the contraceptive pill, forever.
This is emphasized because quitting the pill felt momentous at the time. I had been on the pill since I was 16. Not for contraception then, but because I had periods so heavy I ended up severely anemic and required treatment.
Later, the pill became convenient for other reasons. I didn’t want to worry about irregular, heavy periods, but I also didn’t want to get pregnant, so the pill allowed me to live a life fairly free from those concerns.
My problems with the pill started around the same time as my recurrent urinary tract infections. The antibiotics I was taking meant my gut and vaginal flora took a serious hit. Despite being on the pill, my cycle had become unpredictable.
A gynecologist I saw suggested the pill I was on just wasn’t right for me and prescribed me another, then another. They didn’t help, and my unpredictable cycles continued.
Soon, I began suffering from skin sensitivities and itchiness that drove me crazy.
A Doctor That Helped Me Turn Things Around
By some miracle, I was given an appointment with a trainee doctor in Berlin who identified the skin symptoms as part of a bigger problem – a possible Candida overgrowth – aggravated by my frequent antibiotic use and the estrogen in my contraceptive pill.
Not only did my new doctor believe yeast may have been at the heart of these symptoms, she also suspected it was causing my urinary symptoms. Testing confirmed that Candida was an issue in both my gut and vaginal microbiomes.
She managed to convince me, by sharing her own experiences, to go off the pill. This was terrifying to me at the time. I imagined the heavy periods returning, and all that came with that, including the possibility of babies.
“But I was done making excuses for myself. I was ready to take control of my health.”
The decision to stop taking medications seemed counterintuitive, but I was ready to try a different approach.
I needn’t have worried. The process of changing my diet, and the other measures I’ve mentioned below, resulted in a super regular and almost symptom-free menstrual cycle.
UPDATE: Although I felt the need to stop using antibiotics when I was recovering, I’m not against using antibiotics and I have seen through our community that antibiotics can indeed be the right solution for many.
My Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Treatment Regimen
“I didn’t realize at the time that this was the beginning of my recovery. My regimen took me to a place where I no longer had any symptoms. I was able to stop taking supplements on a daily basis. It wasn’t about managing my symptoms anymore, they were just gone.”
I was basically back at square one and I wanted a fresh start. I wanted more information; everything I could get my hands on. I started with a range of blood tests to check my general health.
I discovered I was quite low in a few essential vitamins and minerals. In speaking with clinicians I have learned this is very common in people who have been fighting long term chronic infection.
First, I began to take a range of supplements targeting my deficiencies. Then I created a regimen of strong herbal antifungals and antibacterials based on the advice of my new doctor.
These were teamed up with oral and vaginal probiotics that contained probiotic strains showing promise for urinary tract and vaginal health.
I had tried all of these separately (minus the vitamins and minerals) after reading studies about each of them. But I had never tried them together, or with a plan and a timeframe in mind.
I started my new regimen.
UPDATE 2020: I’ve received so many requests to provide more information about my own regimen, so I’ve put together a list of products I used and the lifestyle changes I made. I don’t share all of this publicly here because this site is about sharing factual information and experience, not selling products. I prefer to share more detail about the full list of changes I made, via email, so we can discuss. If you would like more information on this, look for the green box at the end of my story that says ‘Receive More Information About My Approach‘ and share your name and email address there (not in the comments).
Why Tracking Your Symptoms Can Help
Now, I don’t know about you, but I love a good spreadsheet. And it’s amazing how much more fulfilling a health regimen can be when you plot it out, then mark off your progress daily. Feels so goooood.
I downloaded a counter on my phone to track how many days since my last UTI – at the very least I would see how long I could last between episodes.
Every morning I woke up and looked at my counter. After 30 days I started to feel my first glimmer of hope. I was still getting twinges and minor symptoms, but nothing I couldn’t handle.
My first milestone came around that time, when I went hiking with my partner. Without a map, without a compass, and without enough water. We got lost. We were out there for 10 hours and I was dehydrated.
But I didn’t get a UTI. And I didn’t even think about it until I was home safe again. That alone blew my mind. This thing that had been my focus for four years had somehow become an afterthought.
The counter kept going up. 45 days, 60 days, 90 days since a UTI. I suddenly felt like declaring myself officially healed of recurrent UTIs at the six month point might not be so far-fetched.
Sometime, around three months in, I had a relapse of symptoms and upped some elements of my regimen in response. That UTI never happened and my count remained intact.
Six months came and went and I set my sights on a year UTI free.
Amazingly, my UTI regimen also cleared up my yeast infections. Four years later, I’ve not had even the slightest hint of one returning.
UPDATE 2020: It’s almost exactly 5 years since my symptoms resolved and I’ve just completed another round of follow up testing. Both my gut and vaginal microbiome tests came back with lower than detectable levels of Candida, meaning no Candida was found.
Leaving UTI Anxiety Behind
Out of fear, leftover antibiotics had become a permanent feature in my bag. If I changed bags, the antibiotics came with me. I never opened them, but they were my psychological backup.
“Around the nine month mark I made the momentous decision to leave the antibiotics behind. It might sound overly dramatic, but tearing up your safety blanket and tossing it to the wind IS huge. I hadn’t taken antibiotics in nine months, but I still relied on their presence, psychologically speaking.”
When I embarked on my healing regimen, I envisioned massive celebrations at the one year mark, for I would then be officially free of recurrent urinary tract infections. In reality, I had put UTIs so far behind me that it was almost a non-event.
I did have some celebratory drinks, with an emphasis on the fact I COULD drink alcohol without fearing a UTI.
How Am I Since Completing My UTI Recovery?
I still have that counter. At the time I write this, I am 625 days UTI free. But it’s no longer important. I keep it as a memento of what I went through, and what it took to get past it.
UPDATE 2020: My counter is now at 1701 days since I overcame my experience with chronic UTI. The regimen that I implemented at the beginning of this journey resulted in a long term ‘remission’ from UTIs. I say remission because I know it will always be possible for me to get another UTI. My urinary tract isn’t impervious to bacteria, just as my sinus isn’t impervious to a cold or flu. But, I was able to stop taking all the supplements I started, and continue only with basic vitamins that proved essential due to my particular diet. I have never again experienced the ongoing pain and symptoms I experienced then (touch wood). I do have a story about food poisoning in Asia that led to urinary tract symptoms, but that’s for another time (and I’m fine now, in case you were worried).
How Long Does It Take To Heal From Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections?
In total, I had painful, recurrent urinary tract infections for more than 4 years. Many people I have spoken with have suffered for many more. The longer you have experienced recurrent infection, the longer it may take to heal.
Commitment to the process of healing is so important. It may take months or years of consistent treatment for you to feel truly recovered. Hopefully, along the way, your symptoms will continually improve, and you can take your life back.
For me, it took around 9 months from the moment I stopped antibiotics and the pill, and adopted my final regimen.
Recovering from recurrent UTI is not a finite process.
I know my bladder is not invincible. I know I could still get a UTI now, just as I always could. The difference is, I now understand better what contributed to my recurrent UTIs. I also have the knowledge and resources to ensure I never again reach the place I was once in.
“UTIs no longer rule my life. I no longer live with the daily fear of a recurrence. I want to help others find answers.”
Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Are More Common Than You Think
Even after I broke the cycle of recurrent urinary tract infections, I never stopped researching.
I’d been full circle through wondering what was wrong with me, to wondering what was wrong with doctors, to being furious at yet another female health issue overlooked by the healthcare industry, to wanting to do something about it.
And here we are. We created this website so you wouldn’t have to look so far and wide for helpful information.
We’ve done our best to break recurrent UTI into the pieces of the puzzle you need to understand in order to get well:
- What causes urinary tract infections
- How recurrent UTIs may be caused by chronic infection
- Why your UTI test may be negative, despite your symptoms
- Recurrent UTI treatment approaches
- UTI home remedies
Plus a whole range of other content to expand on the above.
You Are Not Alone. Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Are So Common.
Since launching our site, I’ve reached out to others who know what recurrent urinary tract infections feel like. They have had me in hysterics as they recounted their now funny UTI stories in an interview.
Catching the train for 45 minutes in UTI-induced agony only to then resort to peeing in the front garden with the key in the door. So close!
Or getting approached by the police for suspicious behaviour resembling a drug deal, when all that was really happening was frantic clawing at a box of antibiotics. It turns out the police will back off quickly if they know a UTI is involved. (Read all about Juliet’s tips for preventing UTIs after sex).
Then of course there is the infuriating side of this. The side that has left so many females feeling helpless.
The urologist whose best advice was that his own wife drinks aloe vera juice to help with her recurrent urinary tract infections. What the?
The many doctors and specialists who have said there’s nothing we can do about it, ‘some women just get recurrent urinary tract infections,’ and ‘it’s just your plumbing.’
Inspired and frustrated by the similarities we heard from all these stories, we started speaking to doctors, and researchers, and pieced together what we found.
Our aim is to provide the most complete source of recurrent UTI and chronic cystitis information available. We’re only part of the way there, but we’ll continue adding new research as we find it.
We hope to lift others out of the murky waters of misinformation and empower them towards their own recovery.
You can help us by sharing your story.
If you’d like more information about my experience, I can respond faster if you provide your name and email address in the green ‘Receive More Information About My Approach‘ box below, rather than leaving a comment.