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Recurrent UTIs at a glance

  • A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection in the urethra, bladder, ureters, and/or kidneys.
  • UTIs are considered recurrent if they occur two or more times in six months, or three or more times in a year.
  • Common symptoms include a strong urge to urinate, and frequent urination in small amounts, often accompanied by a burning sensation.
  • UTIs are predominately treated by primary care physicians or urologists; treatment commonly includes preventive antibiotics, either taken continuously in low doses or as needed when UTI symptoms or triggers are presents.
  • More severe UTIs may require hospital treatment, particularly in the case of an infection that travels to the kidneys.

Causes of recurrent UTIs

Recurrent UTIs are a painful, inconvenient problem that affects 20 percent to 30 percent of all women. UTIs occur when bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract move from the anus to the urethra and into the urinary tract, potentially infecting the urethra, bladder, ureters, or kidneys.

Women who experience two or more UTIs in a six-month period, or those who have three or more UTIs in the course of a year are diagnosed with recurrent UTIs.

Sexual intercourse is a common cause of UTIs in women. People who use catheters (small tubes that are placed into the bladder through the urethra) are also at increased risk of developing recurrent UTIs.

Symptoms of recurrent UTIs

UTIs cause a range of symptoms, which can vary depending on which part of the urinary tract is affected.

Common symptoms include:

  • A feeling of pain or burning during urination
  • Pain or pressure in the pelvic area
  • A strong urge to urinate
  • Frequent urination in small amounts
  • Urine that is cloudy
  • Urine that is colored slightly red, pink, or brown
  • Urine with a strong, unpleasant odor

A UTI that has spread to the kidneys is a potentially serious infection that requires immediate medical attention. Contact your physician right away if you have a UTI along with nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and/or back pain below your ribs on one side.

Treatment of recurrent UTIs

Most UTIs go away with a short course of antibiotics. UTIs may be treated with antibiotics in addition to home remedies such as drinking large amounts of water, frequent urination and completely emptying the bladder, and taking cranberry supplements.

However, women with recurrent UTIs often require preventive antibiotics, depending on the frequency or triggers of their infections.

Women who regularly develop UTIs following sexual intercourse may benefit from a dose of antibiotics that is taken after sex. For women who have less than three UTIs per year, a physician may provide a prescription for antibiotics that can be filled whenever symptoms start to appear.

For women whose recurrent UTIs occur more than three times per year, another treatment option is to take a regular, low dose of antibiotics to help prevent infections.

Other women with recurrent UTIs that may benefit from preventive antibiotics include women who have spinal cord injuries or other complex conditions involving the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis or diabetes.