Can Drinking Alcohol Cause a UTI?

Around half of adults report drinking in the last 30 days, with 16 percent admitting to binge drinking, and 6 percent reporting heavy drinking. As such, alcohol consumption is one of the nation’s favorite pastimes. Unfortunately, it can increase your risk of developing a UTI.

In this post, we explore what UTIs are, the symptoms associated with them, and the role that alcohol plays. 

What is a UTI?

A UTI, or urinary tract infection, is a bacterial infection that can affect the bladder, kidneys, ureters (the tubes that run from the kidneys to the bladder), or the urethra (the tube from the bladder to the outside world). 

Most UTIs are caused by E. coli, a bacteria found in the colon which migrates from the anus into the urethra. However, other common UTI pathogens include Enterococcus faecalis, Staphylococcus saprophyticus, Proteus mirabilis, and Klebsiella pneumoniae

Doctors break down UTIs into different classes. You can have two or more at the same time. 

Cystitis refers to common bladder-based UTIs. With these, patients have a persistent urge to pee and may have cloudy urine. 

Urethritis affects the urethra. This type of infection can produce discharge and result in a burning sensation when you pee. 

Lastly, pyelonephritis affects the kidneys. Patients with this type of infection often experience back pain, fever, and chills. 

UTI symptoms

In many cases, patients develop urinary tract infections without noticing that they have them (at least for the first few days or weeks). However, if symptoms do develop, they can include:

  • A persistent urge to urinate that doesn’t go away after urination
  • A burning sensation as urine leaves the bladder
  • Cloudy-looking urine
  • Urine that is a different color from normal or is pink, evidence of blood in the urine
  • Chills or fever
  • Pain and pressure in the lower abdomen
  • Strange-smelling pee
  • Passing only a small amount of pee during each trip to the bathroom

Can drinking alcohol cause a UTI?

Drinking alcohol does not directly cause urinary tract infections (bacteria are required for that). However, it can raise your risk and make symptoms worse if you already have an active infection. 

Alcohol raises the risk of developing UTIs through several mechanisms. First, it can lead to dehydration, a leading cause of urinary tract infections. When you become dehydrated, urinary tract throughput decreases, giving bacteria in the bladder and other tissues more time to multiply and cause disease. 

Second, alcohol consumption may damage the immune system, making it harder for it to eliminate early-stage before they cause symptoms. For instance, clinicians have observed a close association between alcohol consumption and susceptibility to infection. 

Lastly, alcohol consumption may contribute to UTIs indirectly by increasing the likelihood of sexual activity. Studies show, for instance, that people who drink alcohol are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, leading to more UTIs.

Can you drink alcohol If you have a UTI?

If you have a UTI, you should avoid drinking alcohol. Wine, beer, and spirits can worsen symptoms and cause serious side effects when combined with certain classes of antibiotics. Alcohol further irritates the bladder, compounding the effect of bacteria.

Drinking alcohol may also render treatment less effective, prolonging infection. Common antibiotics, such as trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole do not work as well in the presence of alcohol. Plus, you may experience unwanted side effects, such as racing heart, nausea, and flushing. 

Why does alcohol make your bladder hurt?

Alcohol may hurt your bladder even if you do not have a UTI. Pain occurs because alcohol causes the fluids you excrete to become more acidic. The extra acid load irritates the internal lining of the bladder, making you feel like you have a UTI, even if no bacteria are present.

What other drinks should you avoid with a UTI?

Doctors commonly advise people to avoid beverages such as coffee, tea, and carbonated drinks during UTI episodes. Getting people to stick to water, they believe, helps to flush out the system, reduce the bacterial load and, hopefully, mitigate symptoms without the need for antibiotics. 

Recent evidence backs up this common-sense medicine. A study published in the Journal of Wound Ostomy & Continence Nursing found that patients with UTIs instructed to avoid tea, coffee, and soda saw an improvement in overall symptoms compared to those who carried on as normal. However, the researchers admitted that actually getting people to eliminate irritating drinks from their diets was difficult. 

When to see a doctor?

Some UTIs clear up after a few days but most require antibiotics. Many are persistent and can, if left untreated, cause serious kidney damage. 

If you are experiencing nausea, chills, fever, or vomiting, contact your physician immediately. You may require a course of antibiotics to eliminate the infection and prevent further damage to your urinary tract system.

Similarly, if you have had UTI symptoms for several days that won’t go away (such as a burning sensation when you pee), you require medical attention. Chronic UTIs can develop into serious infections that damage multiple organ systems. 

Get help from an online doctor

To learn more about medication, treatment, and recovery, contact an online doctor. At DrHouse our online doctors are available 24/7 throughout the day, in the evenings, and on weekends, and can provide prompt UTI prescriptions. They can also make recovery recommendations, such as avoiding alcohol and other drinks, like coffee, that make symptoms worse. 

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol does not cause UTIs because it does not directly transport bacteria into the urinary tract
  • However, it can increase the risk of UTIs developing by promoting dehydration, suppressing immune function, and increasing risky sexual activity
  • The main symptoms of UTIs are a burning sensation when peeing, discolored or cloudy urine, pink urine, an urgent need to pee all the time, fever, chills, and pee that smells strange
  • If you have a UTI, you should avoid alcohol, coffee, tea, and carbonated drinks as these can reduce urine pH, creating more irritation that makes symptoms worse
  • If your UTI doesn’t clear up after a couple of days or you have serious symptoms, like fever or vomiting, get urgent care immediately

Sources:

  • Miller JM, Garcia CE, Hortsch SB, Guo Y, Schimpf MO. Does Instruction to Eliminate Coffee, Tea, Alcohol, Carbonated, and Artificially Sweetened Beverages Improve Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms?: A Prospective Trial. J Wound Ostomy Continence Nurs. 2016 Jan-Feb;43(1):69-79. doi: 10.1097/WON.0000000000000197.
  • Vincent CR, Thomas TL, Reyes L, White CL, Canales BK, Brown MB. Symptoms and risk factors associated with first urinary tract infection in college age women: a prospective cohort study. J Urol. 2013 Mar;189(3):904-10. doi: 10.1016/j.juro.2012.09.087
  • Sarkar D, Jung MK, Wang HJ. Alcohol and the Immune System. Alcohol Res. 2015;37(2):153–5. PMCID: PMC4590612.
  • Flores-Mireles AL, Walker JN, Caparon M, Hultgren SJ. Urinary tract infections: epidemiology, mechanisms of infection and treatment options. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2015 May;13(5):269-84. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro3432.
  • Data on Excessive Drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/data-stats.htm

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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