Why Are My UTI Symptoms Not Getting Better After Antibiotic Treatment?


Urinary tract infections (UTIs) happen when bacteria get in the organs that make pee and help it pass out of your body. These parts include the bladder, the kidneys, the tube that connects the kidneys to the bladder (ureters), and the tube that pee leaves your body through (urethra).

Bacteria on your skin can cause UTIs. You can also get a UTI if stool gets in the tube where pee comes out and travels up to the bladder.

Why UTI Symptoms Can Persist After Antibiotics - Illustration by Ellen Lindner

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

UTIs are common. Each year, about 8.1 million visits to hospitals and doctors in the U.S. are because of UTIs.

This article is about why the symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) do not always go away after treatment.

About 60% of women will get at least one UTI in their life. Only 12% of men will get a UTI in their life.

Women get UTIs more often than men do. There are a couple of reasons why. First, women have a shorter urethra than men do. Second, in a woman's body, the tube where pee comes out is close to where stool is stored at the end of the intestine (rectum).

woman experiences stomach pain

Catherine McQueen / Getty Images

Common UTI Symptoms 

If you have a UTI the tubes and your bladder get red and irritated (inflammation). You may also have other symptoms, including:

  • Urgent need to pee
  • Burning sensation or pain when you pee
  • Pain, pressure, or aching in your lower abdomen (pelvic area)
  • Cloudy or dark pee
  • A little bit of blood in your pee
  • Pee with a strong or foul odor

Recap

UTIs are common infections that happen when bacteria get in the organs that help you pee. The bacteria causes irritation and can make you feel sick.

If you have a UTI, you might feel like you need to pee a lot. It might also hurt to pee. You might also notice that your pee looks or smells different than usual.

Why Symptoms Don't Go Away With Treatment

If you get a UTI, your doctor can give you medication to make the bacteria causing the infection go away. These medications are called antibiotics.

You will usually need to take the medicine every day for about 2 weeks. You should also drink plenty of fluid to help clear the infection from your body.

Even if you take the medication the way your doctor tells you to and drink a lot, your infection might not go away. There are a few reasons why this can happen.

Taking the Wrong Antibiotic or Taking Them The Wrong Way

Antibiotics are medications that attack bacteria. Since UTIs are caused by bacteria, your doctor may give you an antibiotic to make the infection go away.

Sometimes, the medicine is not good at fighting the infection. If you take the medicine and still feel sick, tell your doctor. There is more than one UTI treatment. If the first one does not work, you can try a different one.

In one study, researchers looked at 670,450 women with UTIs. About half of the women were given an antibiotic that did not work. Many of the women also took the medications longer than was needed to make the infection go away.

You might get the right medication but make a mistake when you take it. If you take the medication the wrong way, your symptoms might not get better. You could also get a UTI again or get a worse infection.

Here are some important things to know about taking antibiotics for a UTI:

  • Keep taking your antibiotics even if you start feeling better. You need to take all the doses to make sure the infection goes away. Do not "save" any of the medicine for later.
  • Only take the medicine your doctor gave (prescribed) to you.
  • Do not give your antibiotics to other people.

Recap

There are a few reasons a UTI doesn't go away after you take antibiotics. The medication might not have been good at fighting the bacteria. If this happens, you might have to try a different one.

The medication also may not work if you make a mistake taking it. For example, if you do not take all the doses your doctor gave you.

Antibiotic Resistance

When an antibiotic is used a lot, it can stop working. This is called antibiotic resistance. This is a reason why some UTIs do not get better with treatment.

If the medicine you're taking is not fighting the bacteria very well, your doctor might give you a different one.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that antibiotic resistance is becoming more of a problem. About 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections happen every year in the U.S.

Chronic or Recurring UTIs

Some people get UTIs more often than others. They might have UTIs that last a long time (chronic) or that come back more than 3 times in a year (recurring).

You might have heard that cranberry juice or cranberry pills can help if you get UTIs a lot. Some studies have tested whether cranberry products with the fruit sugar D-mannose benefit people who get UTIs. More research needs to be done to see how well they work.

When It's Not a UTI

You might feel like you have a UTI but actually have another medical or health problem. Here are a few conditions that have some of the same symptoms as a UTI:

Some cancers also share symptoms with UTIs, including:

If you have one of these conditions, you might also have other symptoms like:

  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain and tenderness in specific spots
  • Irritation, breakouts, or sores (with sexually transmitted infections)
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Weakness or numbness in your legs or feet
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Blood in semen

If you are not feeling well, your doctor can figure out if a UTI is causing your symptoms. If it's not a UTI, they will look for other reasons why you are sick.

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms. They might also ask you if any health problems run in your family. They might want to do tests to get more clues about what is making you feel sick.

Summary

A urinary tract infection (UTI) happens when bacteria get inside organs that help you pee (like your urethra, bladder, and kidneys). When you have a UTI, your doctor can give you medicine to make the infection go away. These are called antibiotics.

You might need to take more than one antibiotic if the first one does not work. You need to take the medication just how your doctor tells you to. If you don't, your symptoms might not get better or the infection might come back.

You might take the medication the right way and still feel sick. Or you might start having more symptoms. In this case, you may not have a UTI. Other health conditions can feel like a UTI. Tell your doctor about your symptoms so they can figure out what is wrong.

A Word From Verywell

If you get UTIs a lot or your symptoms do not get better with treatment, you might be worried that there is a serious problem. Share these concerns with your doctor. They can help you understand why you get UTIs often or take longer to heal.

Some people just get UTIs a lot. Others need more time to feel better when they get a UTI. There might be some things that you can do to help keep UTIs at bay or feel better sooner if you get one.

If you follow the treatment for a UTI and still do not feel better, you might not have a UTI. There are other conditions that have some of the same symptoms as a UTI. That's why you need to tell your doctor about any symptoms you have. They will use this information to figure out why you feel sick and make sure you get the right treatment.

9 Sources
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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