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.

In many cases, UTIs are treated with antibiotics. You can develop serious complications if the infection moves from your bladder to your kidneys. Home remedies and pain medications are unlikely to provide relief for more severe UTIs and may even increase your risk of complications.

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

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

Prescriptions

After a urine test confirms you have a urinary tract infection, your healthcare provider will likely prescribe medication. The urinalysis identifies the type of bacteria and helps your healthcare provider determine the appropriate antibiotic for the infection you have.

If you are prescribed antibiotics, it's important to 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.

Kidney Infection Treatment

About 95% of acute kidney infections (pyelonephritis) 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.

The 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.

Over-the-Counter Therapies

Over-the-counter drugs are mainly used to alleviate the discomfort and pain of a UTI. These include pain relievers like Advil (ibuprofen) or 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.

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.

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 many experts have not adopted this practice.

There are a number of tried-and-true home remedies that may help minimize the need for antibiotics with a minor UTI. They can also help promote healing while you're taking antibiotics.

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 as 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, 8-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.

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.

Zinc supplements have also been used to support UTI therapy. However, one research study showed zinc reduced recovery time but increased the risk of symptoms such as abdominal pain.

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.

D-Mannose

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).

There is no evidence that D-mannose can treat a urinary tract infection. However, 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 are also concerns that D-mannose may lead to kidney damage.

Speak with your healthcare provider before taking this or any other OTC remedy, supplement, or herbal medication. Bring an updated medication list to your doctor's office so they know all the medications and supplements you're taking.

Summary

UTIs usually need to be treated with antibiotics to prevent the infection from reaching the kidneys. If you have a UTI with minor symptoms, you may find relief with home remedies like drinking lots of water and cranberry juice.

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

If your UTI symptoms are not getting better with the treatment your healthcare provider prescribed, it's important to let them know. Since untreated UTIs can lead to serious complications, your provider will want to re-evaluate your treatment plan as quickly as possible to get you healed.

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 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
    • Wiping front to back (vagina to anus)
    • Avoiding douching or using any sprays or powders near the genitals
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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.