If you start to feel the telltale signs of a urinary tract infection, or UTI, coming on, you might reach for cranberry juice to flush it out.

But is there any truth to this common health advice? We asked an expert.

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The simple answer is yes – sort of.

“Anecdotally it has been seen to be helpful,” says Muhammad Bhutta, MD, a primary care doctor with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Stamford. “Previous studies looked at using cranberry juice, versus water, versus doing nothing to decrease the risk of UTI. Juice and water showed similar results, and performed better than doing nothing,”

The cranberry juice aids in hydration, an important factor for treating UTIs. Some studies suggest cranberry products can provide some benefit, but the evidence is mixed.

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But be warned – UTIs usually don’t go away on their own.

If you’re planning to treat your UTI with cranberry juice, it may not prevent the need for a doctor’s visit. Although there are over-the-counter options.

“If a patient has mild symptoms they can take an over-the-counter medication called pyridium which is like Advil for the bladder,” says Dr. Bhutta.

But if your UTI isn’t getting better, your doctor may need to prescribe your an antibiotic.

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UTIs can spread to the kidneys if left untreated.

In some cases, UTIs can spread “upstream” and cause an infection.

“If you’re having back pain, fever or vomiting with symptoms of a UTI it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible since a urinary tract infection can spread to the kidneys which is a much more serious infection,” says Dr. Bhutta.

Common symptoms include:

  • Dysuria or pain with urination
  • Urinary frequency or urgency
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • A tinge of blood in urine

If you have frequent UTIs, Dr. Bhutta suggests making sure you stay hydrated and urinating after intercourse for females.