Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: Do I need to take antibiotics for a urinary tract infection?

Q. Every time I get a urinary tract infection, my doctor prescribes antibiotics. Is there any other way to treat my infections?

A. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common affliction in women, especially as we get older. Antibiotics—usually a three-day course—are the standard treatment for women younger than 65. Once you are older than 65, your doctor will likely treat you for seven to 10 days. Although there have been studies in which women's UTIs went away on their own without treatment, taking antibiotics prevents the infection from spreading to your kidneys, which can lead to complications such as permanent kidney damage.

Taking a urine sample and culture (to see if bacteria grow from the urine sample) can confirm that you do have a UTI, so you don't take antibiotics unnecessarily, and identify the bacteria that are responsible and the antibiotics they are sensitive to. To prevent these infections in the first place and avoid having to take antibiotics, drink plenty of fluids. Water helps flush bacteria out of your urinary tract. Using the bathroom right after intercourse will also help eliminate bacteria from the area.

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