Why Are My UTI Symptoms Persisting After Antibiotic Treatment?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are very common infections that can occur in any part of the urinary tract system, including the urethra, ureters, bladder, and kidneys. The cause is typically bacteria on your skin or in fecal matter entering the urethra and traveling to the bladder.

UTIs are responsible for an estimated 8.1 million healthcare visits a year. The majority of those visits are from women, 60% of whom will experience a UTI at least once in their lifetime. This is because women have a shorter urethra that is closer to the rectum than men. Only 12% of men will experience a UTI in their lifetime.

woman experiences stomach pain

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Common UTI Symptoms 

When you have a UTI, your urethra and bladder will turn red and become irritated and inflamed. If your UTI is simple, you will likely be prescribed a course of antibiotics for your infection.

You can expect to experience some or all of the following symptoms if you have a UTI:

  • Urgent need to pee
  • Burning sensation or pain while urinating
  • Pain, pressure, or aching in the lower abdomen (pelvic area)
  • Cloudy, dark, or blood-tinged urine
  • Strong or foul odor in the urine

When Symptoms Persist After Treatment

While antibiotics and drinking plenty of fluids help kill and flush the bacteria out from your urinary tract, some people will find that their symptoms still persist. There could be many reasons why this happens.

Taking Antibiotics Incorrectly or Being Prescribed Incorrect Antibiotics

Problems with antibiotic treatment are one of the most common reasons for lingering UTI symptoms. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics targeted to treat your bacterial infection. The treatment typically lasts one to two weeks. If you do not take your antibiotic correctly, the infection can return.

To complete your full course of treatment:

  • Do not stop taking antibiotics when you start feeling better
  • Do not save antibiotics for another time or take antibiotics that were not prescribed to you
  • Do not share antibiotics with others

Stopping your antibiotics before your final dose leaves you vulnerable to more serious infections like a kidney infection.

It's also possible that the type of bacteria causing your infection may not respond to antibiotics. One study of 670,450 women found that nearly half (46.7%) were prescribed the wrong antibiotic for their uncomplicated UTI. They were also often kept on antibiotics longer than necessary (76.1%).

Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic resistance can occur when a certain antibiotic has been used so frequently that the bacteria build up resistance to the treatment. As a result, the antibiotic medication cannot effectively kill the bacteria causing your infection.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say threats of antibiotic-resistance are rising and estimates 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur each year.

Chronic UTI

Some women are simply more prone to having UTIs than others and can experience chronic or recurring UTIs. In these cases, prevention is key.

Researchers have pinpointed a few strategies for managing recurrent UTIs (defined by 3 UTIs per year). Cranberry products contain the fruit sugar D-mannose, which is touted for being able to prevent and treat UTIs. However, more research is needed.

What If It’s Not a UTI?

If you have symptoms of a UTI, chances are that’s what you’re dealing with. In some cases, though, these symptoms can also be signs of more serious health conditions.

Other conditions that can cause similar symptoms include:

If you have any one of these conditions, you will likely experience additional symptoms, including: 

A family history, physical exam, and lab tests can help your doctor determine the next steps and potential causes of your lingering UTI symptoms. 

Summary

Sometimes UTI symptoms can persist even after antibiotic treatment if the wrong antibiotics were prescribed, your infection is resistant to antibiotics, and you have a chronic UTI. There is also the chance that what you thought was a UTI isn't actually one. When you have symptoms of a UTI, it's better to get it checked out by a healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

If you have lingering UTI symptoms, you may be feeling concerned about other potential causes, including cancer. The good news is that your symptoms are likely from a simple infection that can be cleared without complications with a course of antibiotics.

If you have chronic UTIs, you may have already discussed prevention and treatment with your doctor and feel you’re equipped to handle it at home. It is still good to communicate with your doctor to tell them your symptoms and consult on the best course of action. Your doctor will want to know if you’re having recurring symptoms and you will want to share any and all symptoms (even if they seem insignificant) to ensure the right diagnosis and best antibiotic or alternative choice.

If symptoms return when treatment is complete, talk to your medical provider as soon as possible to prevent further spread of infection.  

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Article Sources
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