What's the best way to treat a UTI - and can you treat it yourself?

Written by: Miss Jean McDonald
Published: | Updated: 08/04/2020
Edited by: Cal Murphy

What can cause fever, pain, and problems peeing? And can cranberry juice solve the problem? Expert urologist Miss Jean McDonald explains everything you need to know about urinary tract infections.

What is a UTI?

UTI stands for urinary tract infection. It occurs when a pathogen, such as E. coli infects part of the urinary tract, such as the urethra, the bladder, or the kidneys. UTIs can cause a number of symptoms, including frequent urination, urgency, dysuria (burning or painful urination), abdominal pain, fever, and foul-smelling or dark urine. Some patients may not manifest all of the signs and symptoms and the picture may be less clear, whereas other patients may present very unwell with evidence of progression of the infection to the blood and may require hospital admission.

How is a UTI treated?

A short course of oral antibiotics will cure most routine UTIs. If it persists, you should be evaluated by your urologist, who can investigate you for other causes which may mimic a UTI.

More specific antibiotics may sometimes be required to eradicate the infection. A patient-specific regime can be tailored to reduce the risk factors associated with recurrence of UTIs, which may include bladder management strategies, dietary advice and medications placed directly into the bladder (intravesical therapies).

Is there an alternative to antibiotics?

A number of alternative strategies have been investigated for bladder health and the treatment of UTIs. Cranberry juice, probiotics, intravesical therapies and even vaccines have been used with success. The evidence is limited; however some patients do seem to benefit from these options. It is important to discuss the pros and cons with your urologist before starting any of these treatments, as they may also have adverse effects and can interact with other medications which you may be taking.

What else can I do?

If you think your UTI is not being adequately treated with antibiotics and the symptoms persist, see your urologist for a thorough evaluation. Stones, bladder cancers, an overactive bladder, and interstitial cystitis are just a few of the diseases which can mimic a UTI and be mistreated for a long time. Your urologist can diagnose and effectively treat these for you.

By Miss Jean McDonald

Miss Jean McDonald is an esteemed urologist, with 23 years’ experience as senior urologist at North Middlesex University Hospital. From her practice at Harley Street, Miss McDonald can consult on a range of conditions including female urology, bladder infections, kidney stones, urinary incontinence, and general urology.

After initially graduating from the University of the West Indies, Miss McDonald spent a further nine years in the Bahamas in a range of surgical roles, before moving to London in 1982. She became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh that year and subsequently pursued specialist training in general surgery and urology, gaining her Diploma in Urology at the Institute of Urology (UCL London) in 1990. Miss McDonald was appointed consultant urologist at North Middlesex University Hospital in 1995. She has served in many capacities at North Middlesex University Hospitals, including Clinical Lead, Deputy Chair of the Medicines Management Committee, and Surgical Tutor. She has established a number of innovative programmes including nurse-led urodynamics, prostate clinic, erectile dysfunction clinic, and nurse-led cystoscopy unit. 

Miss McDonald regularly travels to Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Carribbean to run workshops and to share her urological expertise and be involved in the training of the young urologists in these countries. She is actively involved in the teaching of surgical trainees in the UK, as Surgical Tutor at North Middlesex University Hospital as well as Educational and Clinical Supervisor. Miss McDonald has been a member of the Board of Directors and also a member of the Nominations Committee of the Societe Internationale D´Urologie, and is a Honorary Consultant to St Luke's Healthcare, looking after the Church of England clergy.

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