Are antibiotics the only cure for an UTI?
August 10, 2007 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Can an UTI go away on its own without treatment?

I'm female, moderately sexually active. Around last Thursday, I started experiencing symptoms that - upon research on the net - resembled those of a mild UTI. Constant need to pee but very little urine actually passed, burning feeling when peeing, mild discomfort around pelvis area, etc. These symptoms sort of came and went in terms of intensity, sometimes unbearable, sometimes barely there.

I started showering whenever they became unbearable and that usually stemmed it for a bit, and I had decided to go see a doctor on Sunday. However, for most of Monday I felt nothing, and I woke up Tuesday completely fine.

Complications: I was messing around with the boyfriend Thursday a few hours prior to the symptoms, which would sort of make sense with how UTIs develop. I also started my period Thursday - it's early, so I didn't realize till after the aforementioned messing around.

I plan on waiting and seeing how I feel tomorrow morning before making a final decision re: doctor, but I just wanted an opinion on whether or not it was possible to develop an UTI that quickly, and whether a mild infection can simply go away on its own? Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Not a doctor...

According to my understanding: the thing with UTIs is that they can damage things. Things you don't want damaged. If not dealt with properly and in a timely fashion, they can get all the way up into the kidneys and leave you with a lifetime of UTI and kidney issues.

Go see a doctor.

Better to be broke than broken.
posted by jaded at 10:23 AM on August 10, 2007

I am not a medical professional - and you really should consult one. In fact, if I seem to recall correctly there could be long-term, serious complications if it is not treated:

Untreated UTIs can lead to acute or chronic kidney infections (pyelonephritis), which could permanently damage your kidneys. Young children and older adults are at the greatest risk of kidney damage due to UTIs because their symptoms are often overlooked or mistaken for other conditions. Women who have UTIs while pregnant may also have an increased risk of delivering low birth weight or premature infants.

Source: CNN Health

At the very least - drink lots of water and cranberry juice - while you drive your @ss over to your doctor...
posted by jkaczor at 10:23 AM on August 10, 2007

whether a mild infection can simply go away on its own

Of course it is possible for an infection to be fought off by your immune system. But that doesn't mean you want to wait, listen to jaded.
posted by grouse at 10:25 AM on August 10, 2007

There are some over the counter treatments you can take at the early beginning stages which can help - but on the whole a UTI is not something you want to mess around with.

So go see a doctor and get it cleared up asap. You don't want to wait and end up pissing razor blades.

And of course remember the following in future:

# Drink plenty of water every day.

# Urinate when you feel the need; don't resist the urge to urinate.

# Wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria around the anus from entering the vagina or urethra.

# Take showers instead of tub baths.

# Cleanse the genital area before sexual intercourse.

# Avoid using feminine hygiene sprays and scented douches, which may irritate the urethra.

[via NIDDK]
posted by gomichild at 10:27 AM on August 10, 2007

From personal experience, UTI symptoms can come and go regardless of whether the actual infection is gone. This can depend on the amount of water you're drinking, the severity of the infection and probably a bunch of other things that I don't know about because I'm not a doctor.

For a more definitive home answer, you can always head to a drugstore and pick up some urine strips that will test your urine for nitrites (which come from the bacteria) and white blood cells (from your body's response to the infection). Some caveats:
- if you're still on your period during the white blood cell count could be artificially elevated.
- drinking a lot of water could give you a false negative.

I'd try and be sure to do a clean catch to be sure that it's a reliable result.

The only absolute way to know if you have a UTI is if you go and have a culture done of your urine. Regardless, a UTI that is left alone too long can become a kidney infection - not to be a scaremonger, but if your home test kit says you have a UTI, it's probably best to go and get a scrip for an antibiotic.
posted by oreonax at 10:29 AM on August 10, 2007

as others have said, even if your symptoms wane the infection can still be there and cause other damages, so it's really best to get it taken care of ASAP and not wait. if you're concerned about the hassle of going to the doctor/don't have health coverage/etc., planned parenthood can take care of this pretty easily for you and give you antibiotics on the spot, if you have one in your area.
posted by booknerd at 10:38 AM on August 10, 2007

I have successfully shaken a mild UTI with tons of water and cranberry concentrate pills.

One reason to avoid taking antibiotics if you don't need them is that they can cause a yeast infection (talk about the cure being worse than the disease).

OTOH, I have also had an untreated UTI turn into a kidney infection. (Symptoms to watch for are back pain, high fever, and dark urine.)

So -- if you're truly asymptomatic (with copious, clear, pain-free urination), maybe you dodged a bullet, and you don't need to take antibiotics.

IANAD, and you should probably check with your GYN to be sure.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:39 AM on August 10, 2007

Don't drink cranberry juice, it has a lot of sugar in it which can increase the problem. Cranberry pills may help.

However, those measures really should be complementary with medical treatment, especially if this is your first UTI. The symptoms you describe could certainly be a UTI, but could also be bacterial vaginosis or other issues. Go to Planned Parenthood if you can.

(IANAD, just someone who's had a lot of UTIs)
posted by miss tea at 10:48 AM on August 10, 2007

i agree with seeing a doc...
i used to get UTIs very often. I found the best prevention was peeing after sex.

Also, there is research suggesting to do only unsweetened cranberry juice (or concentrate pills)...the sugar is bacteria-friendly.
posted by cloudgazer at 10:48 AM on August 10, 2007

Go to a doctor now.

If your infection gets worse you cannot imagine the pain you'll be in. I put off going to the doctor for a UTI in 1996 and I still have medical issues related to that problem.

This is not one of the times to mess around with over the counter things, most of which handle the symptoms and not the disease.

Seriously. Go now.
posted by winna at 10:49 AM on August 10, 2007 [3 favorites]

I've never treated mine by going to a doctor. A couple of days of drinking unsweetened cranberry juice and wearing skirts and they go away. I'd say give it three days and then go to the doctor if it's not getting better.
posted by melissam at 11:01 AM on August 10, 2007

I'm prone to UTIs and I've found that Ural crystals are a neat over-the-counter measure that can knock out a UTI no hassles. They're an alkali crystal that changes the pH in your urine in such a way that the tract becomes unihabitable to the little beasties giving you hassles. Then give it a few days. That way you're treating it, and you don't have to worry about thrust, kidney infections or the like. Just don't hesitate to get to a doctor if it doesn't clear in a week or so.
posted by Jilder at 11:07 AM on August 10, 2007 [3 favorites]

Don't drink cranberry juice, it has a lot of sugar in it which can increase the problem.

You can buy unsweetened cranberry juice at a wild oats or co-op grocery. It also has a much higher percentage of juice than the usual cranberry "juice".
posted by yohko at 11:15 AM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

A UTI can pretty quickly go from mildly uncomfortable to horrendously painful. You don't want to be trying to sleep tonight and feel like your urethra is on fire, nor do you want to notice blood in your urine this weekend and have to go to an urgent care clinic or hospital. A Dr. can quickly confirm you have a UTI and hook you up with a prescription for antibiotics. If you tell your Dr's office you have a UTI, they will always manage to squeeze you in for an appointment to have it addressed.

Another tip for avoiding UTIs: always pee right after sex.
posted by pluckysparrow at 11:42 AM on August 10, 2007

Don't take UTI-specific analgesics (Azostandard) if you're going for a urine culture. Force water. Don't strain.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:43 AM on August 10, 2007

Whoops. Unnecessary clinic jargon alert. "Force water" means drink tons and tons of it, not some kind of lunatic gynohydrotherapy.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:45 AM on August 10, 2007 [3 favorites]

The last few times I've gotten UTIs, I've managed to fight them off with an over-the-counter pill called Cystex. It's an antibacterial and an analgesic, and they carry it at CVS, etc. I also sometimes use the azo type stuff to deal with the symptoms, and of course drink lots of water. UTIs can be very dangerous if left untreated. But for me, the Cystex clears them up in plenty of time, without me having to go to the doctor and getting antibiotics (and the yeast infection those so often cause).

(IANAdoctor or affiliated with any drug companies, I just get a lot of UTIs for some reason.)
posted by statolith at 11:47 AM on August 10, 2007

However if this is your first UTI, you should see a doc to make sure that a UTI is really what you have.
posted by statolith at 12:30 PM on August 10, 2007

I have this theory - and Ikkyu2 will probably show up to scream at me about it - that a not-insignificant number of what sexually-active young women are told are UTIs are actually the result of the fact that intercourse can, uh, bruise your parts, specifically your urethra.

YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. I am not giving anyone medical advice, so calm the hell down, MeFi hypochondriacs! All I'm saying is:

(This is overshare. Sorry.)

When I first started seeing my dude - who lives across the country, so our reunions are, you know... enthusiastic - I got what I thought was a UTI. My doctor gave me antibiotics. A while later, I got another case of what seemed like a UTI. More antibiotics.

In both cases, the symptoms lasted for about a day and vanished completely. Not "slowly diminished". Vanished. (Yes, I finished the course. Stop yelling.)

The third time this happened, I thought long and hard about this, and decided to monitor my symptoms for a day before getting bombed with drugs.

And they went away. Not "diminished". Not "I successfully ignored them". Went away. All of it: the ouchy peeing, the pelvic achiness.

A few other times, after a visit, I would find that I had vaguely uncomfortable feelings that would go away completely in a few hours if I drank lots of water.

(I know that some of you are dying to inform me that I totally have been walking around with a horrid asymptomatic infection for a year now. I don't think so. I know what my body feels like when it's in perfect health.)

So that's my theory. I think that UTIs - particularly because they seem to be (at least from my many straw polls among my female acquaintances) mostly diagnosed based purely on self-reported symptoms and not, say, through a culture - are seriously over-diagnosed.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 12:31 PM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

no responsible doctor would give you antibiotics without testing your urine first. that doesn't make any sense.
posted by booknerd at 12:48 PM on August 10, 2007

Yes, I believe they can go away, but you really don't want to find out.

When I was about 10, I ended up in the hospital with serious kidney problems (the hurt like only organ failure can) and a 105 degree fever for several days because of at UTI. Go to the doctor.
posted by phrontist at 12:48 PM on August 10, 2007

(Oh, and cranberry juice, unsweetened, was recommended by all my docs)
posted by phrontist at 12:50 PM on August 10, 2007

I've fought them off with drinking lots of water and regular alka seltzer (not the cold medicine, the stuff for upset stomachs). Most doctors here in the UK will have you try these methods first before going to antibiotics.

OTOH, if you have to pay for your medical treatment, a doctor's visit is a lot cheaper than an emergency room visit in the middle of the night when you are pissing razor blades every three minutes.
posted by happyturtle at 12:51 PM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Depends on the severity. I used to get them regularly, and only rarely would I get to the antibiotics stage.

Cranberry Juice, plenty of water, and an OTC remedy for symptoms. Make sure to wipe front to back and to pee after sex!
posted by frecklefaerie at 12:52 PM on August 10, 2007

A good friend of mine kept getting stomach aches and finally got herself to a Dr., turns out it was a UTI and it had already gone to her bladder and she was told that if she had waited a couple more days it would have made it to her kidneys, at which point she would have had to have an IV antibiotic drip and god knows what else. I don't think this is the sort of thing you ignore and hope gets better, it can progress pretty quickly if left unchecked.
posted by whoaali at 1:30 PM on August 10, 2007

I'm home from work today on codeine and antibiotics 'cause I thought that some irritation would go away. Took some Azo, didn't bug me for a few days and then, bam, couldn't function, pain pain pain, high fever. Had a drip, some morphine, etc.

In short, go to the doctor, please?
posted by Gucky at 1:49 PM on August 10, 2007

A few years back I had a horrible UTI, which spread to my bladder and so forth. I developed a severe fever after a week of being too lazy to do anything about it. Towards the end I started feel like I was dying. Reading up on it afterwards suggested that I might've. Septicemia!

Drink cranberry juice and lots of water, use some AZO to keep yourself sane, see your MD ASAP. Don't mess around with this stuff.
posted by cior at 2:07 PM on August 10, 2007

TMI-filter: even after getting antibiotics and recovering from the infection, my urinary function was not the same. Still isn't.

Are you dialing your doctor now? :)
posted by cior at 2:08 PM on August 10, 2007

I am tired of most doctors, and self-prescribe Cipro. Keep some on hand, actually. Useful for anthrax exposure. :)

Drink your probiotics!
posted by trevyn at 2:27 PM on August 10, 2007

I know many other people have said this but go to the doctor! For some people UTIs aren't a big deal but for others they are. If this is your first one, you should probably get checked out.

Yet another horror story: I went through a time when I had UTIs on a regular basis. I got good at telling when one was coming and would try to flush my system with water and juice. I ended up in the ER the night before Thanksgiving with a kidney infection. Not fun. (Also not fun was lying in bed while everyone else pigged out the next day but it seemed secondary to the incredible pain I was in!)
posted by wallaby at 2:38 PM on August 10, 2007

cior is right about what it can do TMI-wise, but I'd recommend against using AZO until you get a diagnosis.

It is dye and the bright orange color can make it very difficult for the doctor to diagnose you properly.
posted by winna at 4:33 PM on August 10, 2007

I get these quite frequently (based on my doctors' standards, more than one a year is frequent).

I've started taking UT Vibrance at the onset of any symptom related to a UTI. This usually clears things up within a day. However, I had one a few weeks ago that I took the UT Vibrance and OD'd on cranberry pills for 5 days before seeing the doctor. Let's just say that I almost had a trip to the ER for IV antibiotics because my kidney became very tender in those 5 days.

Seek professional assistance Pronto! (I'm a seasoned veteran with these and made a mistake trying to self-treat my symptoms..)
posted by smart_ask at 4:53 PM on August 10, 2007

I've had UTIs go from midly uncomfortable to peeing-blood-every-few-minutes-fainted-on-the-toilet-fell-down-the-stairs painful in an 8 hour time span.

I wouldn't mess around with it, go see a doctor if you can.
posted by lastyearsfad at 5:10 PM on August 10, 2007

My wife used to get these back when we were using condoms, but not after we stopped.

The pee after sex thing is important, I've also heard more lube/foreplay helps.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:04 AM on August 11, 2007

The only UTI I ever had didn't seem like a big deal at first...and seemed to go away for the most part...and then I started to get what felt like a lower back cramp around 1 a.m. on about the third or fourth night...which then progressed into worse pain than I've ever felt in my back around 4 which point I couldn't lie comfortably, couldn't sleep, and made my roommate drive me to the hospital. On the way to the hospital, she cranked the heat in the car, and I felt almost completely better by the time we got to the hospital.

But after waiting around for 5 hours in the emergency room, I found out I'd had a UTI that spread to my kidney. Acute nephritis, they called it, and prescribed antibiotics. My roommate, an ENT, was like, "Psh," and didn't think much of it, but I'm glad I went to the hospital.
posted by limeonaire at 12:12 PM on August 11, 2007

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