Medically reviewed by Dr. Emily Rymland, DNP FNP-C on June 23, 2022
Getting a urinary tract infection (UTI) is a painful and upsetting experience, and any of the millions of people who contract a UTI each year can attest to the discomfort they bring. Left untreated, UTIs can also lead to serious complications like kidney infections. Therefore, it’s important that proper steps are taken in order to solve the problem before it becomes a more serious issue.
While UTIs can improve on their own at times, they often need to be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are prescription medications that inhibit the growth and spread of bacteria and other microorganisms.
In this blog, we’ll help you understand more about UTIs. We’ll explain what you can do at home to manage UTI symptoms, how to get antibiotics from a medical provider and the different types of medication you might be prescribed to treat your UTI.
What is a UTI?
- A persistent urge to urinate
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Frequently urinating only small amounts
- Cloudy urine
- Bloody urine appearing red, pink, or brown
- Strong smelling urine
- Pelvic pain
There are several reasons why a person might get a UTI. Essentially, anything that exposes the opening of the urethra to bacteria can lead to a UTI—think poor bathroom hygiene habits, sexual contact from a partner’s genitals, hands, or mouth, or foreign objects like catheters or intimate toys. Those who are on bed rest or have difficulty urinating are also at a higher risk of getting a UTI.
Women are more likely to develop UTIs than men because women’s urethras are shorter and closer to the anus. Menopause can also cause UTIs as the decrease in estrogen production can change the tissue in the urinary tract.
While UTIs are common infections, they can become complicated if not treated. When the infection spreads to the kidneys, for example, a UTI can become much more dangerous. In addition to the regular UTI symptoms, a serious kidney infection can cause fevers, chills, lower back or side pain, and nausea and vomiting. If you exhibit any of these symptoms, contact your medical provider immediately.
Home Management for UTI Symptoms
Many people who have a UTI try different methods for managing their symptoms at home before they go to a medical provider for antibiotics. If the infection is minor, these methods can help to relieve the pain of the UTI. However, if the symptoms persist or get worse, connecting with a medical provider is the best next step.
One of the most effective things that can be done at home to manage UTI symptoms is to hydrate and drink plenty of water, which dilutes urine and helps flush bacteria out of the urinary tract. You’ll want to avoid drinks that irritate the bladder, such as coffee, alcohol, caffeine, and drinks that have citrus juices in them, as these can aggravate symptoms.
Another way to mitigate symptoms at home is to use a heating pad on your lower abdomen or anywhere you feel discomfort. Over-the-counter painkillers can also reduce some of the discomfort that comes from a UTI, as can the medication pyridium.
You might have heard of cranberry juice as a home remedy for preventing or curing UTIs, but research on this is inconclusive. However, there is no harm in drinking cranberry juice as a source of extra hydration and vitamins. Opt for 100% juice over a concentrate or fruit cocktail. However, avoid the beverage if you take blood-thinning medications.
While these home remedies may be able to help with minimizing UTI symptoms, the most reliable course of action is a prescription for antibiotics. Not only is this the most effective way of stopping UTI symptoms, it also helps prevent a minor UTI from turning into a kidney or blood infection.
The first step in getting an antibiotic prescription is to get a diagnosis of a UTI, which you can do at the doctor’s office or via telemedicine. A comprehensive assessment of your symptoms allows telehealth providers to diagnose and prescribe appropriate treatments without an in-person visit. If symptoms don’t respond to the prescribed treatment, you might be referred locally for urine studies.
If a urine study is required, a medical provider will collect a urine sample and send it to a lab. The lab will look for white blood cells, red blood cells, or bacteria in the sample. Your medical provider might also send the sample to be used in a urine culture. This will purposefully grow bacteria to determine the best type of antibiotic for your UTI.
If you have recurring UTIs, a medical provider might send you to get images of your urinary tract with an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI. This can help to detect abnormalities in the urinary tract. They might also perform a cystoscopy where a scope is inserted into the urethra and bladder. These tests can help determine if there are underlying causes for recurring UTIs.
Types of Antibiotics
Once the medical provider has determined that you have a UTI, they will prescribe a type of antibiotic. There are three main types of antibiotics that medical providers typically prescribe for this condition.
One type of antibiotic that is used in UTI treatment is nitrofurantoin. Sold under names including Macrobid, this drug keeps bacteria from getting the DNA and proteins needed for survival. This antibiotic is only used to treat UTIs.
Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, also known as TMP/SMX, is a combination drug of both trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole. Bactrim is one name for this combination of antibiotics, which blocks bacteria from getting the proteins they need for survival. However, if your UTI is caused by a strain of bacteria that is resistant to this particular antibiotic formula you’ll need to try something else.
While these are the two main types of antibiotics used for UTIs, there are some other options, including Cephalexin (sold as Keflex), which destroys the cell walls of bacteria that keep them intact. Amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate and cefdinir are other similar antibiotics, but those with a penicillin allergy should not use these types of antibiotics.
Most rounds of antibiotics can be completed in under a week. It’s important to remember that you always need to finish the entire round you are prescribed. Even if you feel better, you must take all the antibiotics that you are prescribed. This ensures that you fully clear out the infection and don’t have any antibiotic resistance.
Possible Side Effects of Antibiotics
While antibiotics are important for UTI treatment, they do have some possible side effects, but most aren’t dangerous. The side effects might include things like:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tendon damage
- Skin reactions
- Loss of appetite
- Yeast infections
In rare cases some people may experience severe allergic reactions to antibiotics. However, this is uncommon and unlikely to happen. To be safe, always let your medical provider know if you have had bad reactions to antibiotics. You should also let them know any allergies you might have that could impact the antibiotic they prescribe.
Always ask your medical provider about the potential side effects of an antibiotic, and be sure to tell your medical provider if side effects become serious.
UTIs are an uncomfortable type of infection. Thankfully, one of these types of antibiotics can usually clear up the problem quickly.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes.