Antibiotics are the main treatment for all UTIs. A variety of antibiotics are available, and choices depend on many factors, including whether the infection is complicated or uncomplicated or primary or recurrent. Treatment decisions are also based on the type of patient (man or woman, a pregnant or nonpregnant woman, child, hospitalized or nonhospitalized patient, person with diabetes). Treatment should not necessarily be based on the actual bacteria count. For example, if a woman has symptoms, even if bacterial count is low or normal, infection is probably present, and the doctor should consider antibiotic treatment.
Treatment for Uncomplicated UTIs
UTIs in low-risk women can often be successfully treated over the phone. In such cases, a health professional provides the patients with 3-day antibiotic regimens without requiring an office urine test. This course is recommended only for women at low risk for recurrent infection, who do not have symptoms (such as vaginitis) suggesting other problems.
Antibiotic Regimen. Oral antibiotic treatment cures 94% of uncomplicated urinary tract infections, although the rate of recurrence remains high. The following antibiotics are commonly used for uncomplicated UTIs:
- The standard regimen has traditionally been a 3-day course of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, commonly called TMP-SMX (Bactrim, Cotrim, Septra). TMP-SMX combines an antibiotic with a sulfa drug. A single dose of TMP-SMX is sometimes prescribed in mild cases, but cure rates are generally lower than with 3-day regimens. Allergies to sulfa are common and may be serious.
- Fluoroquinolone antibiotics, also called quinolones, have usually been a second choice. However, in geographic areas that have a high resistance to TMP-SMX, quinolones are now the first-line treatment for UTIs. Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) is the quinolone antibiotic most commonly prescribed. Quinolones are usually given over a 3-day period. Pregnant women should not take these drugs.
- Nitrofurantoin (Furadantin, Macrodantin) is a third option. This drug must be given for longer than 3 days.
- Fosfomycin (Monurol) is not as effective as other antibiotics but may be used during pregnancy. Resistance rates to this drug are very low.
- Other antibiotics may also be used, including amoxicillin (with or without clavulanate) and cephalosporins. Doxycycline is often effective but cannot be given to children or pregnant women.
Review Date: 06/17/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.