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December 2015

Antibiotics Not Needed for UTIs?

Urinary tract infections—UTIs—are a common problem for women. A constant urge to go. A burning sensation when using the bathroom. These symptoms and others often send women to their doctor for treatment. The usual remedy is often antibiotics, but a recent study suggests they may not always be needed.

Woman talking with her doctor

Infection from without

A UTI may occur when germs such as bacteria invade your urinary tract—the system that removes waste and extra water from your body. Often your body is able to fight off these harmful bacteria. But not always. When it doesn’t, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Burning pain when urinating

  • Frequent need or urge to urinate

  • Cloudy, bloody, or foul-smelling urine

  • Urine leaks

  • Fever and chills

Anyone can develop a UTI, but women are 4 times more likely to suffer this type of infection. That’s partly because of body structure. A woman’s urethra—the tube that empties urine—is shorter in length. It’s also closer to the rectum. As a result, bacteria can more easily enter the urinary tract.

Antibiotics or not?

Treatment for a UTI typically includes an antibiotic. But these medicines pose some risks. Many can cause side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches. Experts are also growing more concerned about antibiotic resistance. This is when bacteria become immune to an antibiotic’s healing effects. This can make it harder to get rid of harmful bacteria in the body.

Delaying or avoiding antibiotics may be a suitable choice. This is the conclusion of a recent small study in the journal BMC Family Practice. Researchers followed the treatment of 176 women with UTI symptoms. More than one-third of the women were asked to not use antibiotics. Of those participants, 71% reported feeling better 1 week later. These results echo past research that found similar symptom improvement in women who used antibiotics right away and those who didn’t.

If you have symptoms of a UTI, it’s important to see your doctor. He or she can best decide if your symptoms should be treated with antibiotics. Severe or repeat infections are more likely to need medicine to cure them. Symptoms usually subside within a few days.

Preventing UTIs

About 20% of young women with a UTI will develop another one. It’s also not uncommon for some women to have more than 3 UTIs in a year. To help prevent such an infection, follow these tips:

  • Drink lots of fluid, especially water. It will help flush out harmful bacteria from your urinary tract.

  • Practice proper potty hygiene. Wipe from front to back. And don’t hold your urine. That allows bacteria to linger. Go to the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge.

  • Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothes. They can trap moisture close to your body and encourage bacterial growth. Cotton underwear is best.

  • Adjust your sex habits. Specifically, urinate after sex to wash away any germs. Also consider changing your birth control. Some kinds—including diaphragms and spermicides—can encourage bacteria to grow.

And what about cranberries? A recent review of past research on how well cranberries work against UTIs shows that they may be successful.


Learn more about urinary tract infections by taking this quiz.




Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 8/9/2013
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