How to Cure a UTI Without Antibiotics?

UTIs are one of the most common types of infections, and antibiotics are their standard treatment. However, some people may want to avoid antibiotics and instead try an alternative treatment, especially those with recurrent infections or a history of antibiotic resistance.

For those people, the sad news is that there isn’t much scientific evidence to support alternative UTI treatments and the only effective way to cure a UTI is with antibiotics.

However, there are many natural remedies, OTC medications, and lifestyle changes that can help alleviate UTI symptoms, be used as complementary treatment options alongside antibiotics, and help prevent future infections.

Key takeaways:

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the most common types of infections that affect millions of people every year.
  • The only effective way to cure a UTI is with antibiotics.
  • Alternative treatment options can be used to alleviate UTI symptoms, be used alongside antibiotics as a complementary treatment, and prevent future infections.
  • It is not recommended to solely rely on alternative treatments, as there is limited scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness.
  • Untreated UTIs can lead to serious complications, such as kidney infections and sepsis.

Continue reading to learn more about UTIs and treatment options.

Table of Contents

What Is a UTI?

A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract, most notably involving the bladder and kidneys. A bladder infection is considered a lower UTI, while a kidney infection is an upper UTI and a much more severe infection.

In general, when someone refers to a UTI, they are referring to a bladder infection.

UTI Symptoms

The symptoms of a UTI include:

  • urinating frequently
  • urgently feeling a need to urinate
  • pain or burning when urinating
  • passing small amounts of urine when you urinate
  • strong-smelling urine
  • cloudy, pink, or red urine

If the UTI spreads to the kidneys, the following symptoms may appear:

What Causes a UTI?

While a UTI can result from any pathogen infecting the urinary tract, including a fungus or virus, the most common culprit is bacteria. E. coli, in particular, is one of the most common bacteria responsible for UTIs, and these bacteria typically enter the body through the urethra and then travel up the urinary tract to the bladder.

Some risk factors increase the chances of contracting a UTI, the biggest being gender. Because the female body has a smaller urethra which means bacteria have a shorter distance to travel to the bladder, women are more likely to get a UTI. 

Additional risk factors include:

  • certain birth control types
  • being sexually active
  • menopause
  • blockages in the urinary tract
  • catheter use
  • a suppressed immune system

How Are UTIs Commonly Treated?

The standard treatment for most UTIs is antibiotics, which help to clear bacterial infections.

Some of the most common antibiotics used to treat UTIs include:

Antibiotics begin working right away, and you generally notice symptom relief in just a day or two, although the course of antibiotics is generally longer. 

Can You Treat a UTI Without Antibiotics?

The unpleasant side effects of antibiotics and growing cases of antibiotic resistance can lead many to wonder if an antibiotic is truly needed to treat their UTI.

The short answer is that antibiotics are the only proven way to cure a UTI to avoid serious complications. There are some rare cases where a UTI may go away on its own, but it is never recommended to rely on this. Untreated UTIs can lead to serious complications, such as kidney infections and sepsis.

The need for antibiotics is especially true for those with weakened immune systems or those at risk of complications, such as pregnant women.

Furthermore, men are less likely to get a UTI, which is why, when they do have one, it is considered complicated and always requires antibiotics.

When To Start Thinking About Other Treatment Options

If you are someone who experiences frequent UTIs or has a history of antibiotic resistance, you may want to explore alternative treatment options to help prevent future infections and alleviate symptoms.

But remember that these alternative treatments should never be used to replace antibiotics. They have not been proven to effectively cure UTIs on their own and relying solely on them can lead to serious complications.

Alternative treatments can be used in the following instances:

  • As a complementary treatment alongside antibiotics.
  • To help relieve UTI symptoms, such as pain and discomfort.
  • As a preventative measure to help reduce the risk of future UTIs. 

Are There Any Risks of Trying to Cure a UTI Without Antibiotics?

When it comes to curing a UTI without antibiotics, what you are truly doing is aiding your body as it naturally fights the infection. In comparison, an antibiotic directly interferes with the bacteria, either killing them or preventing them from growing.

Without an antibiotic, you always run the risk that your body will not be able to clear the infection completely. If this is the case, the bacteria may continue up the urinary tract until they reach the kidneys. This upper UTI, also known as a kidney infection, is a much more severe infection that increases the risk of sepsis, or full-body infection occurring when the bacteria enter the bloodstream.

Antibiotics provide quick treatment of bacterial infection, which is why, without an antibiotic, the risk for these more serious conditions increases. That is not to say that anyone who forgoes antibiotics will see these complications arise.

Without antibiotic treatment, some people might develop chronic or recurrent UTIs. A chronic or recurrent UTI occurs when someone has three or more UTIs in a year. This can lead to a cycle of ongoing discomfort and the potential for increased resistance to antibiotics when they are eventually used.

Another thing to consider is that the earlier you start antibiotic treatment, the more effective it is likely to be. Also delaying treatment with antibiotics can not only prolong symptoms but also increase the risk of complications.

How to Cure a UTI Without Antibiotics?

While an antibiotic is the only proven way to cure a UTI, there are some remedies you can try to help alleviate symptoms and help your body fight the infection while taking antibiotics. Some of the most common remedies include:

OTC Medication

For those looking to relieve UTI symptoms, OTC medications are a great option.

Phenazopyridine is one option that builds up in the bladder and relieves pain when urinating. It offers quick relief, with those who take it noticing a difference in just 20-60 minutes. However, taking this medication for more than three days is not recommended, as it can mask UTI symptoms and prevent you from noticing if your infection is getting worse.

Also, phenazopyridine is a dye medication that turns your urine orange, so don’t be concerned by the change in your urine’s color. However, be aware that it can stain your clothes permanently, so be careful.

Garlic

Garlic has long been used medicinally for various physical ailments, including infections from viruses, fungi, and bacteria. It offers these benefits because of its sulfur-containing compound allicin, which shows strong antibacterial effects against a range of bacteria, including E. coli.

While garlic can be consumed in its raw form, there are also supplements available that provide garlic in an extract or capsule form. However, there is a risk of increased bleeding with garlic supplements, and it can also interact with some medications, including HIV drugs and blood thinners. If you’re considering garlic supplements to help treat your UTI, check with your doctor first to ensure it is safe.

D-Mannose

This type of sugar naturally occurs in many foods, including apples, cranberries, and oranges. However, those looking for its UTI benefits will often want to opt for its powder or tablet forms.

While researchers are not entirely sure how D-mannose works, they believe that this sugar helps to keep bacteria from adhering to your urinary tract.

Despite the need for further investigation into its mechanism of action, studies involving D-mannose as a treatment option for UTIs have been somewhat promising. A 2016 study found that, after 15 days of supplementation, 90% of the women in the study had their infections resolved.

However, since D-mannose is a type of sugar, this treatment option may not be the best choice for those with difficulty regulating their blood sugar levels. It is recommended that these individuals speak to a doctor before trying this treatment.

Cranberry Juice

One of the natural remedies most commonly associated with UTIs is cranberry juice, with research from 2020 showing that it may be effective for UTIs. However, it should be noted that it may be more effective for some individuals than others.

The healing benefits of cranberry juice come from the polyphenols in cranberries, which can help prevent E. coli from attaching to the urinary tract. If the bacteria cannot adhere to the urinary tract, they cannot cause infection and are more easily removed from the body when you urinate.

In addition, cranberries are rich in antioxidants, which provide them with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. The anti-inflammatory properties, in particular, can help relieve any painful symptoms from your UTI, while its antibacterial properties work against the bacterial infection.

Probiotics

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found throughout the body, most notably in the gut, oral cavity, and vagina. Each of these areas of the body has a unique and diverse microflora of bacteria, and having enough good bacteria is crucial for managing the ill effects of any harmful bacteria.

2018 research has shown that probiotics in the Lactobacillus group may help treat UTIs through various mechanisms. One way is by preventing harmful bacteria from attaching to the urinary tract, which then allows urine to flush the bacteria out of the body.

Additionally, probiotics help lower urine’s pH, creating conditions that are not as favorable for bacteria and making it harder for them to survive.

Some foods that contain probiotics include dairy and fermented foods such as:

  • yogurts
  • some cheeses
  • kefir
  • sauerkraut

Probiotics are also available as supplements.

What Can You Do to Ease UTI Pain?

While your body is working on removing the infection, it’s common to experience pain as the bacteria are cleared out. Still, no one wants to endure this pain for longer than necessary, and thankfully, there are some things you can do to ease this pain.

OTC Pain Reliever

The first step for easing pain from a UTI is using an OTC pain reliever such as ibuprofen. This can help reduce inflammation, which results when the bacteria embed themselves in your urinary tract. Not only can OTC pain relievers help relieve general discomfort, but they can also make urinating less painful. This is important because urinating whenever the need arises is crucial for helping to clear out your urinary tract of bacteria.

Heat Therapy

For those with UTI pain, heat therapy can help ease the pain and make your day more bearable as your body fights the infection.

Try applying a heating pad to your lower abdomen or back whenever you feel pain. The heat will help relax your muscles and ease any discomfort. While it’s not recommended to use a heating pad while you sleep, using it before bed can help to relax your muscles and reduce your pain so that you can fall asleep easier.

Yet another option is to take a bath, and adding Epsom salts may boost the benefits. Epsom salts contain magnesium and sulfate, which are believed to help provide pain relief. Enjoying them while you submerge yourself in hot water can further ease your pain as the warmth relaxes your muscles.

What Can You Do to Prevent Future UTIs?

While your primary concern may be getting rid of a current UTI, you are also probably wondering what you can do to ensure you don’t find yourself in this situation again. The good news is that to help prevent a UTI, you only need to modify a few habits.

Drink Up

Drinking water helps when you have a UTI, and it also helps to prevent them. 

When you are consistent with drinking enough water each day, you urinate more often, which then helps to clear bacteria from your urinary tract before they can cause an infection. It may seem frustrating to need to visit the bathroom more often, but it’s definitely preferable to a UTI.

Watch Your Wiping

For women, in particular, the direction you wipe after passing a bowel movement is critical to prevent UTIs. This is because E. coli, the bacteria most commonly causing UTIs, is often found around the anus. So, if you wipe from back to front, you increase the risk of spreading this bacteria to your urethra.

To prevent UTIs, make sure to always wipe from front to back.

Have Sex Safely

Being sexually active is a risk factor for UTIs because the act of sex offers a way to introduce bacteria to your urinary tract. But, there are precautions you can take to limit the risk.

First, always urinate after sex, as this helps to flush out any bacteria that might have made their way into the urethra.

Additionally, steer clear of certain birth control methods, such as spermicide-treated condoms, unlubricated condoms, and diaphragms, as these forms of birth control have been related to higher instances of UTIs.

When to See a Doctor?

You should contact your healthcare provider if you suspect you may have a UTI or if you experience any symptoms pointing to one. They will be able to diagnose your infection and prescribe treatment accordingly. Remember, the earlier you treat your UTI, the more manageable it is and the less likely it is to spread to your kidneys, leading to more severe complications.

If you do opt for natural remedies rather than antibiotics for a UTI (which is not recommended) it’s essential to remain vigilant about your symptoms and their intensity. Even if you start with a mild infection, it can quickly worsen and spread to other parts of your body.

If you notice your symptoms persisting at the same intensity after a few days, or they worsen at any time, seek medical guidance immediately.

FAQs

In Conclusion

UTIs are common infections, with their standard treatment being antibiotics. There may be many reasons why someone would want to avoid antibiotics, especially for those who experience recurrent UTIs and want to avoid excessive exposure.

But whatever your reason, remember that the only way to effectively treat a UTI is with antibiotics.

While various non-antibiotic remedies are available, including OTC medications, natural remedies, and lifestyle changes, these may only provide temporary relief and do not address the root cause of the infection.

Overall, those who choose to avoid antibiotics must monitor their body closely because it’s highly possible that their treatments do not work, and the infection will become more severe.

Sources:

  • Bergamin, P., & Kiosoglous, A. (2017). Non-surgical management of recurrent urinary tract infections in women. Translational Andrology And Urology, 6(S2), S142-S152. doi: https://doi.org/10.21037/tau.2017.06.09 
  • Klimberg, I., Shockey, G., Ellison, H., Fuller-Jonap, F., Colgan, R., Song, J., Keating, K., & Cyrus, P. (2005). Time to symptom relief for uncomplicated urinary tract infection treated with extended-release ciprofloxacin: a prospective, open-label, uncontrolled primary care study. Current medical research and opinion, 21(8), 1241–1250. https://doi.org/10.1185/030079905×56358 
  • Bayan, L., Koulivand, P. H., & Gorji, A. (2014). Garlic: a review of potential therapeutic effects. Avicenna journal of phytomedicine, 4(1), 1–14. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4103721/.
  • Garlic. (2021). In Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed®). National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501782/.
  • Domenici, L., Monti, M., Bracchi, C., Giorgini, M., Colagiovanni, V., Muzii, L., & Benedetti Panici, P. (2016). D-mannose: a promising support for acute urinary tract infections in women. A pilot study. European review for medical and pharmacological sciences, 20(13), 2920–2925. PMID: 27424995.
  • González de Llano, D., Moreno-Arribas, M., & Bartolomé, B. (2020). Cranberry Polyphenols and Prevention against Urinary Tract Infections: Relevant Considerations. Molecules, 25(15), 3523. doi: https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25153523 
  • Nemzer, B., Al-Taher, F., Yashin, A., Revelsky, I., & Yashin, Y. (2022). Cranberry: Chemical Composition, Antioxidant Activity and Impact on Human Health: Overview. Molecules, 27(5), 1503. doi: https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules27051503 
  • González de Llano, D., Moreno-Arribas, M., & Bartolomé, B. (2020). Cranberry Polyphenols and Prevention against Urinary Tract Infections: Relevant Considerations. Molecules, 25(15), 3523. doi: https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25153523 
  • Akgul, T., & Karakan, T. (2018). The role of probiotics in women with recurrent urinary tract infections. Türk Üroloji Dergisi/Turkish Journal Of Urology, 44(5), 377-383. doi: https://doi.org/10.5152/tud.2018.48742 
  • Gupta, V., Nag, D., & Garg, P. (2017). Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections in Women: How Promising is the Use of Probiotics?. Indian Journal Of Medical Microbiology, 35(3), 347-354. doi: https://doi.org/10.4103/ijmm.ijmm_16_292

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