UTIs: Why antibiotics aren’t always the answer.

by Dr. Cheryl B. Iglesia, MD, Urogynecology, director of the National Center for Advanced Pelvic Surgery for MedStar Health
April 17, 2020

While treatment for urinary tract infections (UTIs) are usually effective, they’re not always necessary, as the body often can fight off simple UTIs on its own. Let’s discuss the implications of unnecessary UTI treatment and why it typically occurs in the first place.

A UTI is an infection in any part of the urinary system, which includes the kidneys, bladder, and urethra (the structures through which urine passes before being expelled from the body). The most common symptoms of a UTI include:

  • Burning feeling when you urinate
  • Dark, cloudy, or bloody urine
  • Fever
  • Frequent or intense urge to urinate
  • Pain or pressure in your back or lower abdomen

People most often develop UTIs due to age and sexual activity. Postmenopausal women are more prone to bacteria growing in their urinary tract, as their bodies often produce less estrogen, altering the bacterial mix. Sexual intercourse can cause bacteria in the vagina and rectum to get into the urinary tract, and using latex condoms during sex can promote bacterial growth (although you should still use a condom, but more on that later).

UTI overtreatment issues.

Overtreatment of UTIs typically occurs as a result of doctors routinely testing your urine for bacteria during office visits—even when you don’t have symptoms—and then suggesting you eliminate the bacteria right away with antibiotics.

But this practice doesn’t follow the current guidelines set by the Infectious Disease Society of America and the American Urologic Association, which states that you shouldn’t be screened or diagnosed with a UTI until you experience two or more of the symptoms mentioned above. This is important, as it helps you avoid taking unnecessary antibiotics. Taking antibiotics you don’t need or taking them too often can lead to consequences, including:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Potential side effects, such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vaginal itching and discharge, and more
  • Resistance to the antibiotics when you truly need them
Taking #antibiotics for a potential #UTI can do more harm than good, unless you’ve experienced multiple symptoms, such as a #fever or a burning feeling when you urinate. Learn more via @MedStarHealth

Click to Tweet

Keep in mind though, that if you do experience symptoms, it’s important that you seek treatment. Untreated UTIs can cause the infection to spread throughout the body. For example, in some cases, the infection can spread from the bladder to one or both kidneys, which can damage the kidneys and permanently reduce their function.

When UTI treatment is necessary.

If you’re experiencing multiple symptoms of a UTI and we have confirmed that you have abnormal bacteria growth in the urinary tract, antibiotics usually are the most effective way to fight off the bacteria. The dosage and type of antibiotics you take depend on the severity of your infection. Make sure to speak to your doctor about your particular situation and what medication would be best for you.

If you’re experiencing recurrent UTIs (more than two in six months or three in a year), your doctor will likely suggest you undergo screenings to identify any potential abnormalities in the body that could be contributing to your UTIs. One such screening is a cystoscopy, in which a doctor uses a thin tube called a cystoscope to examine your urethra and the lining of your bladder.

Tips to prevent UTIs.

There are several ways you can help prevent UTIs from developing. Some of my top recommendations include:

  • Drink more water: Drinking more water helps dilute your urine and ensure that you’ll urinate more frequently, which allows bacteria to be flushed from your urinary tract before an infection can begin.
  • Use the bathroom before and after sex: This can flush bacteria away from the urethra. And while we’re on the topic of sexual activity, although condoms can contribute to UTIs, I still recommend using them, as they’re important for preventing sexually transmitted infections.
  • Wipe from front to back: When you do this after urinating and after a bowel movement, it helps prevent bacteria in the anal region from spreading to the vagina and urethra.

UTIs can be painful and difficult to deal with. However, it’s important that you don’t opt for UTI screenings or treatment until you experience multiple symptoms in order to avoid taking unnecessary antibiotics.

Don’t delay care.

If you’re experiencing UTI symptoms, don’t delay your care. MedStar Health Urgent Care offers extended hours and online check-in. If you have concerns about potential exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) and are staying home, you can access 24/7 on-demand video access through MedStar eVisit. You can also schedule an online appointment for primary care, specialty care, and other services through MedStar Health Video Visits.

Experiencing symptoms of a UTI?
We provide multiple options to help you get the care you need now.

MedStar eVisit

MedStar Health Urgent Care

MedStar Health Video Visits

Category: Living Well     Tags: MedStar eVisitMedStar Healthurinary tract infectionutiuti symptoms