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Urinary tract infection in women - self-care

What to expect at home

Most urinary tract infections (UTI) are caused by bacteria that enter the urethra and travel to the bladder. This can lead to infection, most commonly in the bladder itself. At times, the infection can spread to the kidneys.

Common symptoms include:

  • Bad urine odor
  • Pain or burning when you urinate
  • Strong need to empty your bladder

These symptoms should improve soon after you begin taking antibiotics.

If you are feeling ill, have a low-grade fever, or some pain in your lower back, these symptoms will take 1 to 2 days to improve, and up to 1 week to go away completely.

Taking your medicines

You will be given antibiotics to be taken by mouth at home.

  • You may need to take antibiotics for only 3 days, or for up to 7 to 14 days.
  • You should take all of the antibiotics, even if you feel better. If you do not finish all of your antibiotics, the infection could return and may be harder to treat.

Antibiotics may cause side effects, such as nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, and other symptoms. Report these to your doctor, and do not just stop taking the pills.

Make sure your doctor knows if you could be pregnant before starting the antibiotics.

Your doctor may also give you a drug to relieve the burning pain and urgent need to urinate.

  • Your urine will have an orange or red color to it when you are taking this drug.
  • You will still need to take antibiotics.

Preventing future urinary tract infections

BATHING AND HYGIENE

  • Choose sanitary pads instead of tampons, which some doctors believe make infections more likely. Change your pad each time you use the bathroom.
  • Do not douche or use feminine hygiene sprays or powders. As a general rule, do not use any product containing perfumes in the genital area.
  • Take showers instead of baths. Avoid bath oils.
  • Keep your genital area clean. Clean your genital and anal areas before and after sexual activity.
  • Urinate before and after sexual activity.
  • Wipe from front to back after using the bathroom.
  • Avoid tight-fitting pants. Wear cotton-cloth underwear and pantyhose, and change both at least once a day.

DIET

  • Drink plenty of fluids -- 2 to 4 quarts each day.
  • Do not drink fluids that irritate the bladder, such as alcohol and caffeine.

RECURRING INFECTIONS

Some women have repeated bladder infections. Your health care provider may suggest that you:

  • Use vaginal estrogen cream if you have dryness caused by menopause.
  • Take a single dose of an antibiotic after sexual contact.
  • Have a 3-day course of antibiotics at home to use if you develop an infection.
  • Take a single, daily dose of an antibiotic to prevent infections.

Follow-up

See your doctor after you finish taking antibiotics to make sure that the infection is gone.

If you do not improve or you are having problems with your treatment, talk to your doctor sooner.

When to call your doctor

Call right away if the following symptoms develop (These may be signs of a possible kidney infection.):

  • Back or side pain
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

Also call your doctor if UTI symptoms come back shortly after you have been treated with antibiotics.

References

Gupta K, Hooton TM, Naber KG, Wullt B, Colgan R, Miller LG, et al. International clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of acute uncomplicated cystitis and pyelonephritis in women: A 2010 update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the European Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. Clin Infect Dis. 2011 Mar;52(5):e103-20.

Updated: 8/5/2013

Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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