Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are responsible for approximately 7 million healthcare provider visits per year in the United States.
Though most UTIs are effectively treated with antibiotics, in some cases, UTI symptoms can linger even after completing the full course of antibiotic medication prescribed by your doctor.
In this article, I’ll describe the possible causes of lingering UTI symptoms after antibiotics.
I’ll also cover the recommendations for what to do when UTI symptoms linger after treatment, and when you should expect your symptoms to disappear.
Finally, I’ll explain when it’s important to reach out to your doctor or healthcare provider for testing or a more thorough exam.
Can UTI Symptoms Linger After Antibiotic Treatment?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection caused by bacterial growth that occurs in any part of the urinary tract, though most UTIs occur in the lower urinary tract (including the bladder and urethra).
This type of UTI is referred to as a simple, or uncomplicated, UTI. If the infection spreads to your upper urinary tract, it can cause a kidney infection.
In some cases, a kidney infection, also called pyelonephritis, can be life-threatening.
The most common symptom of a UTI is frequent urination, but signs can also include a burning or painful sensation when urinating, cloudy urine, blood in urine, back pain, and pelvic pain.
Women in menopause or postmenopause may sometimes have a UTI without experiencing any symptoms.
It’s important to speak to a medical provider to determine whether you have a UTI, especially if it’s your first time experiencing symptoms.
In most cases, antibiotic treatment will clear the infection and resolve your symptoms within 3-10 days. There are some conditions, however, that can cause your symptoms to linger after treatment:
Antibiotic resistance occurs when the bacteria causing your infection does not respond to the antibiotic prescribed, which is often a result of frequent use.
Unfortunately, because UTIs are one of the most common types of infections, antibiotic-resistant urinary tract infections are on the rise. In people with chronic or recurrent UTIs, antibiotic resistance may be even more common.
Nationally, recent reports show that one in five simple or uncomplicated UTIs are now resistant to common antibiotics.
There are several types of bacteria that can cause a UTI, but the most common is Escherichia coli (E. coli), which experts believe is the cause of 90% of clinically diagnosed UTIs.
E. coli lives in the intestinal tract, but it can cause serious infections if it enters the urinary tract. This is why practicing good bathroom hygiene is essential to preventing UTIs.
Despite it being the most common cause of simple UTIs, E. coli is not the cause of all of these infections.
That’s why your doctor or healthcare provider may perform a urine culture in addition to a urinalysis to determine the exact cause of your UTI.
If your UTI is caused by a bacteria other than E. coli, or even a virus or fungi, but you’re prescribed an antibiotic to clear an E. coli-related infection, you may need a different prescription to effectively treat the cause of your infection.
In some cases, antibiotic medication will fail to resolve your symptoms because the underlying cause isn’t a UTI, but another condition which can cause similar symptoms.
Conditions that can cause UTI-like symptoms include:
- Cystitis, or bladder infection
- Overactive bladder
- Kidney infection
- Bladder or kidney stones
- Prolapsed uterus
- Bladder cancer
- Prostate cancer
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can also cause UTI-like symptoms.
Speaking with your healthcare provider or doctor is the best way to determine whether your symptoms are a result of an STI or UTI. Some STIs that can cause UTI-like symptoms include:
What To Do When UTI Symptoms Linger After Treatment
If your UTI symptoms persist even after completing the treatment course recommended by your provider, reach out to your doctor for additional testing and information.
Depending on your symptoms and history, your doctor or healthcare provider may choose to do a urine culture or order additional tests, such as a pelvic ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scan, to better diagnose the underlying condition.
In the meantime, there are several things you can do to help soothe or lessen the severity of your symptoms.
Some of these practices may also help prevent future UTIs.
- Practice good bathroom hygiene: Practicing good urination and bowel movement hygiene can help prevent bacteria from entering the urinary tract. Hygiene recommendations include not holding your urine for too long when you feel the need or urge to urinate. In addition, women and people with vaginas should always wipe from front to back after a bowel movement, and should urinate soon after sexual intercourse.
- Stay well hydrated: Drink plenty of water and urinate regularly. This can help to flush out the harmful bacteria in your system. Research shows that increasing your daily water intake can decrease your risk for recurrent UTIs.
- Take showers instead of baths: Bacteria grow more quickly in warm and hot water, which is why many doctors may recommend avoiding hot tubs and baths, and showering instead. Additionally, the soap used in many bubble baths can irritate the urinary tract. Avoid these if you’re experiencing UTI symptoms.
- Avoid scented or irritating products: You may enjoy the smell, but scented tampons, pads, bubble baths, toilet paper, spermicides, deodorants, and laundry detergents can throw off the balance of bacteria in the vagina, which can cause irritation or infection.
- Don’t douche: Douching is unnecessary, since the vagina is self-cleaning. It can also disrupt the natural vaginal bacteria and cause increased risk of infection.
- Try drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry extract supplements: Some studies have shown that cranberries may help prevent UTI-causing bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider if they recommend drinking concentrated cranberry juice, or taking cranberry extract supplements, to help manage your symptoms.
When Should Symptoms Disappear?
The length of treatment for your symptoms will depend on the cause.
If your doctor confirms that you have a simple UTI, expect symptoms to disappear within 3-10 days. If your doctor says your UTI is more severe, it may take several weeks for the infection to clear and your symptoms to disappear.
If the cause of your symptoms is unrelated to a UTI, talk to your doctor about the recommended treatment plan and when you can expect your symptoms to disappear.
Regardless of the cause of your symptoms, if your doctor prescribes a course of antibiotics for the treatment of your symptoms, it’s important that you complete the full course of medication as directed.
Signs a UTI Isn’t Responding to Antibiotics
If you’re experiencing any of the common symptoms of a UTI after you’ve completed the recommended treatment, reach out to your doctor or healthcare provider immediately.
Common symptoms that may persist include:
- An intense, persistent, and frequent urge to urinate
- A burning sensation or pain when urinating
- Passing frequent, small amounts of urine
- Cloudy urine
- Blood in the urine
- Strong- or foul-smelling urine
- Pelvic pain (for women only)
- Pain in the side, lower abdomen, or back
- Nausea and/or vomiting
Reaching out to your doctor is the best step to take if you continue to experience any of these symptoms.
Your doctor can work with you to determine whether you have a UTI or if there’s an underlying condition behind your symptoms. Once the correct diagnosis is made, they can recommend effective treatment options.
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K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
An introduction to the epidemiology and burden of urinary tract infections. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6502976/
Antibiotic-resistant urinary tract infections are on the rise. (2019). https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/antibiotic-resistant-urinary-tract-infections-are-on-the-rise-2019101417982
Prevention of Recurrent Acute Uncomplicated Cystitis by Increasing Daily Water in Premenopausal Women : A Prospective Randomized Controlled Study. (2017). https://idsa.confex.com/idsa/2017/webprogram/Paper67459.html
Anti-Adhesion Activity of A2-type Proanthocyanidins (a Cranberry Major Component) on Uropathogenic E. coli and P. mirabilis Strains. (2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4790394/