More than half of all women in the United States will have at least one urinary tract infection (UTI) in their lifetime, with a quarter having a subsequent infection. Two or more infections in six months, or three or more in a year, are considered recurrent urinary tract infections.
According to Cedars-Sinai research published in the Journal of Urology, despite the prevalence of the painful condition, women are fearful and frustrated with the limited treatment options. Women who took part in the study criticized their healthcare providers for failing to understand their experiences and over-prescribing antibiotics as a treatment option.
“We were inspired to conduct the study because so many women came to us feeling hopeless and helpless when it came to managing their UTIs,” said lead author Victoria Scott, MD, a urologist at Cedars-Female Sinai’s Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery clinic.
Researchers conducted a focus group study of 29 women who had recurrent urinary tract infections to learn about gaps in their care in order to help give those suffering from recurrent UTIs a voice. UTIs are infections of the urinary tract that can affect the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra. The phrase “bladder infection” is most commonly used to describe a bladder infection.
UTIs are infections of any part of the urinary tract, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra. The term is most commonly used to describe a bladder infection. More than half of U.S. women will experience at least one urinary tract infection (UTI) in their lifetimes, while a quarter will have a subsequent infection.
One of the most common concerns raised by study participants was the frequent use of antibiotics, as well as concerns about the medication’s potential side effects, both short and long-term.
“Many of the participants were aware of the risks associated with bacteria developing antibiotic resistance,” Scott said. “They were also aware of the ‘collateral damage’ of antibiotics and the disruption they can have on the normal balance of good and bad bacteria in the body.”
Concerns about the medical system and limited research efforts to investigate new non-antibiotic management strategies were also expressed in focus group discussions. Participants expressed frustration and resentment toward their medical providers for “throwing antibiotics” at them without providing alternative treatment and prevention options, as well as for failing to understand their experience. Furthermore, many women reported seeking advice from herbalists and acupuncturists, as well as peers in online forums and chatrooms.
Treatment and Prevention
Although studies show that antibiotics are often the most effective treatment option for urinary tract infections, research also shows that non-prescription steps such as increased water intake and pain relievers such as ibuprofen can clear up to 40% of bladder infections.
Taking these steps when UTI symptoms first appear and urine test results are awaited can help to avoid unnecessary antibiotics and ensure that appropriate antibiotics are prescribed when necessary. Drinking water, taking cranberry supplements or a low-dose antibiotic after sexual intercourse, and using vaginal estrogen for postmenopausal women are all steps women can take to avoid a urinary tract infection.
While many people prefer over-the-counter treatments, Scott advises seeing a doctor if a fever develops or symptoms persist for more than a day, as antibiotic therapy can be critical for some infections to prevent them from spreading from the bladder to the kidneys.
“Antibiotics are amazing drugs that can save your life in certain situations,” Scott said. “Antibiotics are absolutely necessary in some cases, but it’s also critical for women to be educated about all of their options.”
Those who have recurring urinary tract infections should consult a specialist. Some women will benefit from a kidney ultrasound or a cystoscopy, which uses a small camera inserted into the urethra to provide a view of the urethra and bladder in order to rule out anatomic abnormalities. While it is less common, men can also get urinary tract infections, according to Scott.
Some doctors may not believe that a single episode of a urinary tract infection can have a significant impact on a patient’s life. When UTIs reoccur, they can have a negative impact on social life, work, families, and relationships.
The study recommended that physicians modify management strategies to address women’s concerns and that more research be dedicated to improving non-antibiotic options for preventing and treating recurrent urinary tract infections, as well as management strategies that better empower patients.
“Unfortunately, many women blame themselves for developing UTIs. It is critical to understand that UTIs are a very common problem that should not be shamed “Scott stated in his case. “If you are experiencing recurrent UTIs, I encourage you to consult with a doctor who specializes in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery so that we can develop individualized prevention and management strategies.”