UTI treatment: antibiotic and medication options

Elizabeth Morrill
Elizabeth Morrill
Published Mar 27, 2023
A repeating pattern of orange pills on a lemon yellow background

Key Points:

  1. Simple urinary tract infections (UTIs) are usually treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics for UTIs are one of the most common prescriptions in the United States.
  2. Most people feel better a few days after starting antibiotics. There are also medications that can help with the pain and discomfort associated with UTIs.
  3. People who have minor symptoms and no other health problems can reasonably try at-home treatments like cranberry juice or drinking extra fluids for a few days. However, if symptoms do not improve, or if you are pregnant, develop a fever, notice blood in your urine or if you are part of a high-risk group, you shouldn’t wait to talk to a healthcare provider about your symptoms. Without treatment, UTIs can cause serious problems.

A urinary tract infection can cause painful urination, frequent urination and other irritating symptoms. The go-to treatment for urinary tract infections (UTIs) is antibiotics. UTIs are so common that 20% of all antibiotic prescriptions in the US are for UTI treatments.

There are other treatments you can try if you want to avoid antibiotics or if you can’t see your provider right away. However, these likely will not work and your infection may worsen. It is best to start antibiotics sooner rather than later.  If you are pregnant or part of a high-risk group, or if you develop a fever, chills or blood in the urine, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider right away.

Can a UTI go away on its own?

You might be wondering if a UTI can go away without treatment. It’s estimated that about 1 in 3 UTIs get better without treatment. However, UTIs can cause serious problems, especially if you’re pregnant or part of a high-risk group. Additionally, the research about alternative treatments for UTIs is still unclear.

If you have symptoms of a UTI, such as burning with urination, frequent urination, cloudy or foul-smelling urine or pelvic pain, you should talk to a healthcare provider. This is especially important if you’re pregnant, as UTIs can cause harm to the mother or baby if left untreated.

How do you treat a UTI?

Antibiotics are the first-line treatment for uncomplicated UTIs. Most people feel better in just 1-2 days after starting antibiotics. If the pain is severe, there are medications that can help, such as Phenazopyridine (brand name: Pyridium) or over-the-counter pain relievers like Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen, however these can’t substitute for antibiotics since they do not kill the bacteria causing the UTI.

In addition to antibiotics, it’s important to follow other guidelines to help your body flush out bacteria. This includes:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, to help your body urinate frequently 
  • Wiping front to back after using the bathroom to keep bacteria from the anus and vagina away from the urethra
  • Urinating after sex
  • Avoiding products that can irritate the urinary system, including douches and deodorant sprays
  • Potentially choosing a different kind of birth control, since spermicides and diaphragms are linked to more UTIs

There are other treatment options for UTIs depending on your health history and personal situation.

  • Frequent UTIs: If you frequently get UTIs despite good hygiene practices, your provider may prescribe a low-dose antibiotic to take after sex or possibly every day
  • Estrogen therapy: Estrogen creams or suppositories can help treat UTIs in people who have gone through menopause
  • Severe UTIs: If you have a severe infection or an infection that has reached your kidneys, you may need to receive antibiotics through an IV in the hospital

Which antibiotics are used for UTIs?

There are several different prescription antibiotics associated with UTI treatment. The right antibiotic for you will depend on your health history, how often you get UTIs and how severe your infection is.

Some options for UTIs include:

  • Trimethoprim and Sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim and Bactrim DS)
  • Fosfomycin (Monurol)
  • Nitrofurantoin (Macrodantin, Macrobid and Furadantin)
  • Cephalexin
  • Ceftriaxone

Antibiotics are prescribed so often for UTIs that some are becoming less effective. That’s why it’s important to talk to your provider about your history of UTIs and antibiotic use. Additionally, you should call your provider if you’re not feeling better after taking antibiotics for a few days or if your symptoms get worse after starting antibiotics.

Antibiotics work by killing or disrupting the reproductive cycle of bacteria. However, antibiotics can affect bacteria in other parts of your body outside of the urinary tract, including the intestines and vagina. That’s why some people develop gastrointestinal symptoms while taking antibiotics, such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

Also, some people develop yeast infections after taking antibiotics. In fact, about 1 in 4 people who take antibiotics for a UTI will develop a yeast infection in the vagina due to the way that antibiotics affect the vaginal flora.

Online treatment for UTIs

Want a convenient option for treating your UTI? Dr. B offers a convenient virtual medical consultation that includes prescription UTI antibiotics if appropriate.


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