For most cases of uncomplicated urinary tract infections (UTIs), you will need to take a 3-day course of antibiotics and make sure to stay hydrated. Some infections, however, may require longer treatment for up to 7-10 days. For complicated UTIs, your course of antibiotics may extend up to 2 weeks or more. How long it takes to recover depends on:
Symptoms like pain and the need to urinate often may resolve pretty quickly after starting antibiotics. But it’s important to complete the entire course of antibiotics to make sure the infection is completely gone, because it can stay in your body for a while.
Why should I take the full course of antibiotics?
Antibiotics start to work against the infection quickly, and you may start to feel better within a few days. However, it takes longer for the antibiotics to completely kill the bacteria causing the infection.
When you don’t finish your antibiotic treatment, there’s a chance that the bacteria isn’t eliminated completely, which may cause repeat infection. Or the bacteria may become resistant to antibiotics and stop responding to treatment in the future.
Are antibiotics effective against UTI?
Antibiotics can quickly relieve the symptoms of UTI. According to one study, people who took antibiotics felt better fairly quickly:
- Pain and burning resolved within 1-3 days.
- After one week, symptoms resolved in about 60% of the patients.
Some people may experience side effects from taking antibiotics, which include:
Can I treat a UTI without antibiotics?
Your doctor will likely not recommend UTI treatment without antibiotic therapy. A bladder infection (cystitis) that is not treated with antibiotics can worsen over time, leading to a more severe kidney infection (pyelonephritis).
However, a study has suggested that mild UTIs may resolve on their own without treatment. If you have questions about the severity of your case, you should talk to your doctor about your treatment options.
What can cause UTI symptoms to persist after antibiotic therapy?
Usually, UTI symptoms resolve completely after antibiotic treatment. However, symptoms may linger if:
- The bacteria are resistant to the prescribed antibiotics.
- Another type of bacteria, fungi or virus is causing the infection.
- You have another medical condition and not a UTI. For example benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), uterine prolapse or overactive bladder can cause UTI-like symptoms.
Since E coli is the most common bacteria cause of UTI, your doctor may have prescribed antibiotics targeting E coli without first performing a urine culture. If you have recurrent UTIs, your doctor should perform a urine culture and sensitivity test to identify the antibiotic that will be effective on the bacteria causing the infection.
In some cases, underlying conditions can cause UTI-like symptoms. They include:
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University of California. Urinary Tract Infections. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/urinary-tract-infections
InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). How Effective Are Antibiotics in Treating Acute Cystitis? 2006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279401/
Urology Care Foundation. Urinary Tract Infections in Adults. https://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/u/urinary-tract-infections-in-adults