Antibiotics May No Longer Do the Trick for Treating UTIs

February 22, 2018 Moses Mukai, DO

Many women know that urinary tract infections (UTIs) can be cleared up quickly with antibiotics. But this simple problem may become much more serious in the near future. That’s because drugs used to treat UTIs are becoming less effective.

“It all boils down to the fact that there are just a few select options for treating UTIs,” says Moses Mukai, DO, a board-certified OB/GYN and urogynecologist at St. Mary High Desert Medical Group. “And as infections become more resistant to current medications, the chances for real problems are amplified.”

Almost half of all women in the U.S. will get a UTI at least once in their lifetime. If untreated the infection could mean big trouble, including damage to kidneys and other organs. For many years, however, there’s been an easy cure. Most women who experience painful burning during urination report their symptoms to their doctors who prescribe an antibiotic. With just a few doses, the pain and discomfort go away relatively quickly.

The problem is that UTIs are mainly caused by E. coli bacteria which, along with other strains, are becoming increasingly resistant to today’s drugs. One study of E. coli discovered in urine samples of U.S. patients found the greatest increases in resistance were for the antibiotics Cipro and Bactrim.

As a result, a new phenomenon is occurring at medical offices and hospitals around the country. Doctors are noticing the old stand-by drugs aren’t as effective as in the past. In some cases, doctors have had to resort to two or three antibiotics to attack the problem. Others use older, less-effective antibiotics. And still others resort to inserting a catheter into patients’ arms to give antibiotics through a vein because the by-mouth medications aren’t working any more.

With the hope of slowing down non-resistant strains, many physicians are re-considering the rate at which they prescribe antibiotics. In the past, doctors would prescribe antibiotics at the first sign of inflammation showing up in a urine test, even though the patients had no symptoms. The belief was that symptoms would automatically occur if an antibiotic wasn’t used. Now, the advice is to wait for symptoms before prescribing. The only exception is for pregnant women, who are still given antibiotics before symptoms occur because UTIs could lead to pre-term labor if left untreated.

Also, doctors had been quick to give antibiotics to menopausal women who presented with urinary pain or cramping. However, in many of these cases, these problems are due to hormones and not an infection. Patients would show up repeatedly complaining of the same symptoms despite having taken several rounds of the drugs. Now, the tendency is to consider other conditions first in the post-menopausal patient.

There’s also a large-scale effort nationwide to find new drugs to combat the E. coli that causes the infection in the first place. Scientists are working at developing new technologies to outsmart the bad bacterium.

And, individuals can do their part in avoiding antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection in the first place. Doing things like wiping down exercise equipment, cooking meat thoroughly, and washing your hands are no-brainers but need to be done consistently.

Also, if you need an antibiotic, ask your doctor if you can take a narrow-spectrum drug for your condition. The broader the antibiotic, the more you risk destroying beneficial bacteria and giving those bad germs further opportunity to gain resistance.

Learn more about Dr. Mukai. Learn more about St. Mary High Desert Medical Group. If you’re looking for a quality OB/GYN or urogynecologist, click here to find a St. Joseph Health physician in your area who fits your needs.

Have you had a positive experience with prescription antibiotics for a UTI or other women’s health condition? Share your success story in the comments.

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