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Urinary tract infection - Treating a urinary tract infection

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Your treatment will depend on whether your infection is in the upper or lower urinary tract.

A lower urinary tract (UTI) infection can usually be treated at home using antibiotics, and so can a mild to moderate upper UTI. If an upper UTI is more serious, or you are also at increased risk of complications, you'll need hospital treatment.

Treatment at home for a lower UTI

If you have a lower UTI that needs treating, your GP will prescribe a course of antibiotics for up to a week. How long you take the antibiotics for will depend on whether you have a higher risk of developing complications; for example if you have diabetes.

The antibiotic that's usually used to treat lower UTIs is trimethoprim. It's uncommon to get side effects, and if you do they are usually mild. They include: 

  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • vomiting (being sick)
  • skin rash
  • itchy skin

You can use over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to help with any pain from the UTI.

Treatment at home for an upper UTI

If you have an upper UTI, the treatment usually involves taking antibiotics for seven to 14 days. Again, how long you take the antibiotics for will depend on your risk of developing complications.

You'll usually be given antibiotics called co-amoxiclav or ciprofloxacin, unless you're pregnant. If you're pregnant, you'll probably be given an antibiotic called cefalexin instead, which is safe to use in pregnancy.

These antibiotics can make you feel drowsy, so avoid driving or operating heavy machinery when you're taking them.

Make sure you drink plenty of fluids, as this will help to relieve any symptoms of fever and prevent dehydration.

You can use paracetamol to help with any symptoms of an upper UTI, but don't use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen. This is because NSAIDs can increase the risk of developing kidney complications.

Hospital treatment for a UTI

You may need to go into hospital to be treated for an upper urinary tract infection if you: 

  • are pregnant
  • are over 60 years old
  • have severe vomiting (being sick)
  • have severe pain 
  • are dehydrated
  • can't pass urine, or you're passing smaller amounts of urine than usual
  • have a blockage in your kidneys, such as a kidney stone
  • have diabetes
  • have been having chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • have a history of kidney disease
  • have a history of recurring upper UTIs
  • have HIV
  • have sickle cell anaemia
  • have cancer

If you're admitted to hospital with an upper UTI, you'll probably have a drip put in your arm to give you fluids. This is to help keep you hydrated. You can also be given antibiotics through the drip.

You'll have regular blood and urine tests to monitor your health, and to see how well the antibiotics are fighting off the infection.

Most people who are treated for an upper UTI respond well to treatment and can leave hospital within three-to-seven days.

Recurring UTIs

Unfortunately, some people keep getting UTIs - this is called having recurring UTIs.

Recurring UTIs can happen because the urethra gets irritated after having sex. If it's thought that this might be the cause of your recurring UTIs, you may be given antibiotic tablets to take after each time you have sex.

Using a diaphragm for contraception, or using condoms coated with spermicide, can increase the risk of getting a UTI. Find out more about diaphragms, condoms and UTIs in preventing UTIs.

If your recurring UTIs are not thought to be linked to having sex, you may be given a low-dose antibiotic to take every day.

If you can't take antibiotics

Taking methenamine hippurate is an alternative to antibiotics. Methenamine hippurate works by changing the chemical composition of your urine, making it "less attractive" to bacteria.

Side effects of methenamine hippurate are uncommon. However, they can include: 

Methenamine hippurate isn't as effective as antibiotics in preventing the infection from returning. Because of this, it tends to be used only when people can't or won't take antibiotics.

There are also some lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce the risk of getting a UTI. Find out more about how you can prevent UTIs.

Medical Review: April 07, 2012
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