UTIs - when do I need antibiotics?



Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


29 April 2019

Are antibiotics always necessary?

Whilst antibiotics are often the go-to for doctors when it comes to UTIs or cystitis, with the threat of antibiotic resitance upon us, plus different types of cystitis becoming more common (such as interstitial cystitis which isn't thought to be infective in nature), many of us are beginning to think twice about the need for these medications.

 

Here we explore some of the pros and cons of antibiotics, when they should be considered necessary and which home and herbal remedies may be suitable in some cases instead.

What are UTIs?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common infections that affect the urinary tract, and in more severe cases, the kidneys. Once the infection affects the bladder this may also be known as cystitis. UTIs take hold as a result of bacteria infecting the area. The bacteria often travels from the end of the digestive tract and the most common strain of bacteria giving rise to infections is E. coli. Infection by these bacteria in your more delicate urinary tract can then can give rise to a range of unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms including:

UTIs tend to more commonly affect women (as a result of anatomical locations) but they aren’t unheard of in men. More often than not, UTIs don’t last much longer than a few days, although in that time, they can cause havoc – especially if you feel you are constantly running to the loo! 

Then, recurrent infections can be a real problem for some people too, which can be really quite debilitating and unsurprisingly, people want a solution. We might be prescribe harder hitting antibiotics such as, ciproflaxin, however is this the best solution?

Why antibiotics?

Most UTIs are caused by an infection of bacteria, so it makes sense that antibiotics should be a suitable course of treatment, right? 

Upon attending the doctors you’ll most likely be given 3-day course of an antibiotic such as amoxicillin and be sent on your way. Within a few days, more often than not, you may find the problem is resolved.

Should we be weary? 

It’s not that antibiotics won’t help with the symptoms but the question is, are they always necessary? You may have noticed a change in your doctor’s willingness to prescribe antibiotics and there may just be some reason behind this.

Firstly, we don’t often talk about the negative effects that antibiotics can have on our bodies. Yes, they can eliminate the bad bacteria which can give rise to infections, when they need to, but actually, they can also  risk affect our good gut bacteria too. There’s no denying that, in some cases, antibiotics may be necessary, but if you do need them, you should also consider taking a course of good quality probiotics alongside them to help protect your gut flora.

Then, let’s not forget about the threat of antibiotic resistance. If you haven’t heard much about this, perhaps you should have! Antibiotic resistance means that the bad bacteria that could previously be eliminated by antibiotics no longer are – see these are clever little critter and they’re able evolve to be able to overcome the medication designed to stop them in their tracks. As time goes on, antibiotic resistance is becoming a bigger threat and the unnecessary overuse of antibiotics is something we really need to consider! The overuse or misuse of medications for more minor infections could ultimately mean that more serious infections such as tuberculosis or pneumonia could be harder to keep under control in the long-run. Therefore, we certainly don’t want to be using antibiotics incorrectly or unnecessarily so always double check with your doctor. 

Then, what happens if antibiotics don’t work? We need to be asking why. Firstly, antibiotics may not work if bacteria isn’t at the root of the cause. This may be the case in episodes of non-infectious or interstitial cystitis. However, there’s also the possibility that cystitis isn’t the cause at all. In men, other issues such as enlarged prostate could create similar symptoms, or some sort of sexually transmitted infection.

Are home remedies an option for UTIs?

Sometimes a trip to the doctors is necessary and antibiotics are quite simply required.

However, interestingly, some research has suggested that for women who were enrolled in a study and were willing to delay antibiotic treatments under professional guidance, had an over 70% chance of clinical improvement or cure.1

Of course, if you are experiencing more severe symptoms such as blood in the urine or back pain, it’s definitely time to pay your GP a visit. However, if you’re just feeling a very slight niggle; some home and herbal remedies may be worth a try:

1. Drink plenty of water

Now more than ever is the time to drink plenty of water! We quite literally need to flush ourselves out. Nice dilute urine can help flush bad bacteria away, whilst stale, concentrated urine is the perfect breeding grounds for these guys to flourish - we don’t want any more of that! Stick to plain, still water rather than any fizzy or sweet varieties which aren’t likely to help much.

2. Choose Cranberry Juice 

Cranberry is unique in that it is thought to help prevent bad bacteria sticking to the inside of the urinary tract.2 Try alternating between drinks of cranberry juice and water throughout the day, although, just ensure that you stick to a good quality, no added sugar variety. Biotta Wild Mountain Cranberry Juice is also a nice natural option!

3. Avoid sugar like the plague

To put it bluntly, sugar is definitely one to avoid, especially if recurrent infections are a big issue for you. Sugar feeds the bad bacteria allowing them to flourish and become more established. Stick to complex carbohydrates and unsweetened, fresh foods instead.

What about natural remedies?

Together with some useful home remedies, there are also some natural remedies out there which can help to stave off UTIs:

1. Uva-ursi 

Uva-ursi & Echinacea complex is our licensed herbal remedy for the relief of symptoms of minor urinary complaints and cystitis.

My Top Tip:

Take A.Vogel's Uva-ursi & Echinacea drops 5 times daily to help overcome symptoms of cystitis. You remain vulnerable after a bout of cystitis, so it's important to prevent reinfection by following good hygiene practices. 

These drops can be taken for up to 6 weeks at a time, but you should talk to your doctor if your symptoms do not improve after 7 days.


“Perfect for bladder strength.”

 

Read what other people are saying about Uva-ursi.

2. Cranberry Complex

As previously mentioned, some promising research has suggested that Cranberry can be useful in the prevention of UTIs.1,2 Our Cranberry complex contains this important ingredient together with some other important bladder friendly herbs including nasturtium, horseradish and goldenrod

3. Probiotics 

Friendly bacteria can be useful in helping to keep symptoms of cystitis at bay. Take one such as Optibac for women, to help support the balance of bacteria in and around your intimate area. 

Sometimes the doctor is necessary!

As I mentioned above, sometimes it is the case that a trip to the doctor is required. If you experience pain in your back or blood in your urine it’s time to go – we don’t want to risk that infection getting anywhere near your kidneys, that’s for sure! A short dose of antibiotics may be required, and coupled with a course of probiotics you should hopefully be back on track in no time.

 

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25180378

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25635978

 

Originally published on 17/10/2017, updated on 29/04/19

Uva-ursi and Echinacea – for cystitis

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Fresh extracts of uva-ursi and echinacea to help maintain bladder health and comfort.
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Biotta Wild Mountain Cranberry Juice

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A combination of the fresh juice of organic cranberries together with birch and agave nectar.
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Our expert's top picks for a healthy bladder and dietary advice

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Key products for bladder health and cystitis management: Uva-ursi and Echinacea Complex, Cranberry …
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Here’s what I recommend

Emma our women's health advisor recommends Uva-ursi complex to help ease symptoms of cystitis and cranberry to maintain bladder health.

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Did you know?

Cystitis is sometimes known as ‘honeymoon cystitis’. Why? Well, during sex, bacteria can spread from the perineum to the urethral opening. The risk of developing cystitis is therefore increased depending on the frequency you have intercourse (sorry honeymooners!).

7 reasons you keep getting cystitis

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