How a Urinary Tract Infection Is Treated

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are often mild but can become severe if left untreated. If your UTI is mild, drinking plenty of fluids can help speed healing along. You can also take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever to relieve some discomfort while your body fights the infection.

UTIs that last longer than two days may need to be treated with antibiotics. You can develop serious complications if the infection moves from your bladder to your kidneys. Home remedies and analgesics are unlikely to provide relief for more severe UTIs and may even increase your risk of complications.

This article discusses the various home remedies, OTC and prescription treatments, and alternative therapies that can help you recover from a UTI.

Home Treatment Tips for a Urinary Tract Infection
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Home Remedies

While antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat a urinary tract infection, attitudes have changed in recent years due to increasing rates of antibiotic-resistant E. coli and other bacteria. Today, some healthcare providers will take a watch-and-wait approach if a UTI is uncomplicated and has minor symptoms.

In Europe, for example, healthcare providers will often provide a 48-hour delayed prescription to be used at the patient's discretion. Similar practices are being adopted by some healthcare providers in the United States.

Some studies suggest that withholding antibiotics may result in a higher risk of UTI complications, and most experts have not adopted this practice.

To minimize the need for antibiotics when dealing with a minor UTI, there are a number of tried-and-true home remedies:

Drink plenty of water: Fluids can help your body clear out more of the bacteria circulating in the bladder. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water per day (or roughly half a gallon). You may need to urinate more frequently—make sure you don't hold it in for hours and be sure to go as often you need to.

Drink cranberry juice: Long lauded for its ability to treat UTIs, cranberry juice contains compounds thought to prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract.

While some scientists have publicly doubted these claims, research from Boston University School of Medicine concluded that a daily, eight-ounce glass of cranberry juice, taken over 24 weeks, reduced the recurrence of UTIs by nearly 45%. Cranberry pill extract may also be beneficial for preventing UTIs.

Get more vitamin C: Vitamin C may help treat a mild urinary tract infection by increasing urine acidity, making it more difficult for bacteria to grow. If needed, you can bolster your vitamin C intake through food or with a daily supplement.

You should avoid any food or drink that can irritate or inflame the urinary tract, as this can make your symptoms worse. This includes spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine.

Placing a heating pad, hot water bottle, or warm compress on your abdomen or back can help to ease the discomfort of a bladder infection.

Over-the-Counter Therapies

Over-the-counter drugs are mainly used to alleviate the discomfort and pain of a UTI. Chief among these are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen), or analgesic pain relievers like Tylenol (acetaminophen). These medications are not a replacement for antibiotics, though.

Another drug, known as phenazopyridine, is designed specifically to treat urinary tract pain. It is available in low doses without a prescription and marketed under such brand names as Azo or Uristat. Urine becomes orange in color when using this medication.

Higher-strength formulations are available by prescription and are commonly taken to reduce pain until the infection begins to resolve. You need to avoid alcohol when taking phenazopyridine, as the combination could cause liver toxicity. Common side effects include drowsiness, increased thirst, stomach ache, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.


While some people may be eager to get antibiotics, these drugs should only be prescribed by healthcare providers when absolutely needed. If you are prescribed antibiotics, it's critical that you follow your healthcare provider's directions to reduce the risk of drug resistance.

The vast majority of UTIs are caused by bacteria and, as such, are treated with antibiotics. The choice of drug is largely dependent on whether the infection is in the bladder (cystitis) or the kidneys (pyelonephritis).

Cystitis Treatment

Antibiotic drugs used to treat uncomplicated cystitis include:

Symptoms of cystitis, such as lower belly pain and cloudy or bloody urine, will typically resolve within six days of starting treatment. Treatment may take longer if you have recurrent UTIs or have severe urinary tract symptoms. Common side effects include a headache, dizziness, upset stomach, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, itchiness, and rash.

Nitrofurantoin and fosfomycin should be avoided if there are any signs of a kidney infection, including flank pain, fever, nausea, vomiting, and chills.

Pyelonephritis Treatment

About 95% of acute kidney infections can be treated with oral antibiotics. The most commonly prescribed ones include:

People with milder infections may only require treatment for five to seven days. By contrast, pregnant women may require a seven- to 14-day course, while immune-compromised people may require up to 21 days of treatment. Severe cases may require a combination of intravenous (IV) and oral antibiotics.

Research so far hasn't shown that fluoroquinolones are unsafe during pregnancy, but some experts still recommend against prescribing them to pregnant women.

Side effects of the recommended antibiotics for pyelonephritis are essentially the same as those used for cystitis. However, certain drugs (like penicillin) may cause a potentially life-threatening, whole-body allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis. If not treated in time, anaphylaxis can lead to shock, coma, cardiac or respiratory failure, and death.

Complementary Medicine (CAM)

While a number of alternative approaches have been proposed to either treat or prevent a urinary tract infection, there is minimal evidence about their effects.

Some, such as probiotics, have not demonstrated benefits for treating urinary tract infections. Others, like zinc supplements used to support UTI therapy, have been shown to increase the risk of urinary tract complications.

Other folk remedies such as garlic, horseradish, nasturtium, uva ursi, and Salvia plebeia—used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)—have shown little to no benefit in treating or preventing UTIs in the few available studies researching their use.


One nutritional supplement that has attracted attention is a simple sugar derived from cranberries and other plants known as D-mannose. Unlike most sugars, D-mannose is not metabolized. It does not enter the bloodstream and is quickly excreted from the body, unchanged, in 30 to 60 minutes.

Because it does not metabolize, D-mannose does not raise blood glucose levels in the same way as other sugars. Instead, it binds to the lining of the intestinal tract, where it prevents bacteria from attaching to the lining and infecting epithelial cells (cells that line all body surfaces).

While there is no evidence that D-mannose can treat a urinary tract infection, a 2014 study published in World Journal of Urology found that women who took D-mannose powder daily had a lower rate of UTI recurrence compared to those who took a placebo.

Furthermore, the daily use of D-mannose appeared to be just as effective in preventing UTI recurrence as the daily use of the antibiotic drug nitrofurantoin.

With that being said, D-mannose supplements can cause bloating, loose stools, and diarrhea. When taken in excessive doses, there also concerns that D-mannose may lead to kidney damage.

As such, you should speak with your healthcare provider before taking this or any other OTC remedy, supplement, or herbal medication. It is good practice to bring an updated medication list to your doctor's office so that they're aware of all the medications and supplements you are taking.


UTIs that last longer than a few days need to be treated with antibiotics to prevent the infection from reaching the kidneys. There is no evidence that any supplements, herbs, or OTC medications can heal a UTI. Due to the risk of spreading infection, you should consult with your healthcare provider before attempting to treat your UTI with any remedy that was not prescribed to you.

A Word From Verywell

While you cannot always prevent UTIs, you may be able to reduce your chances of developing one. For starters, you should avoid holding in your urine any longer than is absolutely necessary. The longer you hold your bladder, the more time bacteria has to grow. Other practices you can work on include wiping front to back (for women) and wearing cotton underwear. And while you should wash your genitals every day, it's best not to linger in the shower or bath for more than 30 minutes at a time.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do healthcare providers diagnose UTI?

    A urine test is usually the first step for diagnosing a UTI, and the urine will be analyzed for bacteria and white blood cells. If the urine tests positive for a UTI and symptoms persist after treatment, imaging tests can be used to determine other potential issues in the urinary tract.

  • How do you prevent UTIs?

    According to the CDC, there are several tips to help prevent UTIs, including urinating after sex, drinking lots of fluids, taking showers rather than baths, always wiping front to back (females), and avoiding douching or using any sprays or powders near the genitals.

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