Urinary tract infection in adults - Treatment 

Treating a urinary tract infection 

Carers

If you are looking after an adult who has had a urinary tract infection because they have difficulty taking care of their own wellbeing, Carers Direct may be able to help you. On Carers Direct you can find out all about how to get help with caring for the person you look after, your legal and employment rights, and getting benefits.

Your treatment will depend on whether your infection is in the upper or lower urinary tract.

A lower urinary tract (UTI) infection can usually be treated at home using antibiotics, and so can a mild to moderate upper UTI. If an upper UTI is more serious, or you are also at increased risk of complications, you’ll need hospital treatment.

Treatment at home for a lower UTI

If you have a lower UTI that needs treating, your GP will prescribe a course of antibiotics for up to a week. How long you take the antibiotics for will depend on whether you have a higher risk of developing complications; for example if you have diabetes.

The antibiotic that’s usually used to treat lower UTIs is trimethoprim. It's uncommon to get side effects, and if you do they are usually mild. They include: 

  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • vomiting (being sick)
  • skin rash
  • itchy skin

You can use over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to help with any pain from the UTI.

Treatment at home for an upper UTI

If you have an upper UTI, the treatment usually involves taking antibiotics for seven to 14 days. Again, how long you take the antibiotics for will depend on your risk of developing complications.

You’ll usually be given antibiotics called co-amoxiclav or ciprofloxacin, unless you’re pregnant. If you’re pregnant, you’ll probably be given an antibiotic called cefalexin instead, which is safe to use in pregnancy.

These antibiotics can make you feel drowsy, so avoid driving or operating heavy machinery when you’re taking them.

Make sure you drink plenty of fluids, as this will help to relieve any symptoms of fever and prevent dehydration.

You can use paracetamol to help with any symptoms of an upper UTI, but don’t use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen. This is because NSAIDs can increase the risk of developing kidney complications.

Hospital treatment for a UTI

You may need to go into hospital to be treated for an upper urinary tract infection if you: 

  • are pregnant
  • are over 60 years old
  • have severe vomiting (being sick)
  • have severe pain 
  • are dehydrated
  • can’t pass urine, or you’re passing smaller amounts of urine than usual
  • have a blockage in your kidneys, such as a kidney stone
  • have diabetes
  • have been having chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • have a history of kidney disease
  • have a history of recurring upper UTIs
  • have HIV
  • have sickle cell anaemia
  • have cancer

If you’re admitted to hospital with an upper UTI, you’ll probably have a drip put in your arm to give you fluids. This is to help keep you hydrated. You can also be given antibiotics through the drip.

You’ll have regular blood and urine tests to monitor your health, and to see how well the antibiotics are fighting off the infection.

Most people who are treated for an upper UTI respond well to treatment and can leave hospital within three-to-seven days.

Recurring UTIs

Unfortunately, some people keep getting UTIs – this is called having recurring UTIs.

Recurring UTIs can happen because the urethra gets irritated after having sex. If it’s thought that this might be the cause of your recurring UTIs, you may be given antibiotic tablets to take after each time you have sex.

Using a diaphragm for contraception, or using condoms coated with spermicide, can increase the risk of getting a UTI. Find out more about diaphragms, condoms and UTIs in preventing UTIs.

If your recurring UTIs are not thought to be linked to having sex, you may be given a low-dose antibiotic to take every day.

If you can’t take antibiotics

Taking methenamine hippurate is an alternative to antibiotics. Methenamine hippurate works by changing the chemical composition of your urine, making it "less attractive" to bacteria.

Side effects of methenamine hippurate are uncommon. However, they can include: 

Methenamine hippurate isn’t as effective as antibiotics in preventing the infection from returning. Because of this, it tends to be used only when people can’t or won’t take antibiotics.

There are also some lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce the risk of getting a UTI. Find out more about how you can prevent UTIs.


Page last reviewed: 09/04/2012

Next review due: 09/04/2014

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Comments

The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

S_Rodgers94 said on 26 May 2013

What are signs of a urine infection spreading because im scared that is what is happening to me. I've been to my doctor because of pains in back etc but he says its my anxiety but in a way i cant take that answer 100%. Recently i've found lumps under my skin on my forearms and testicles so i looked it up on websites and people say you get cysts when fighting infections. Im scared that the infection has spread to much and that it might kill me.

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Spookshow_79 said on 09 January 2013

People should read more carefully: there are two distinct conditions described here with different treatments - ibufrofen is appropriate for one and not the other.
The huge emboldened headings show you this.
The opening statement "Your treatment will depend on whether your infection is in the upper or lower urinary tract." is also a major clue.

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arclite said on 15 November 2012

A recent visit to A&E for a knee injury resulted in the following repeated statement: "NSAIDS, Ibuprofen or compound medicines containing Ibuprofen are contra-indicated for people with Diabetes, for either Type I or Type II.

It appears that what is being taught at medical schools is being kept up to date with current research. It is equally important that the same decisions on good curriculum content are made throughout the NHS.

I hope these comments are critically reviewed and the stated review date for this page is not to be taken literally.

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katiemarie50 said on 13 October 2012

Isha13- Re-read and then you will see it says 'You can use over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to help with any pain'
for lower UTIs

And then....

'but don’t use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen' for upper UTI's

Very helpful information. Thank you NHS :)

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Isha13 said on 22 September 2012

Huh? first it says
'You can use over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to help with any pain'
but then it says
'but don’t use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen'........thanks nhs -.-

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