How Long Does a Urinary Tract Infection Last?

Infections affecting the bladder, urethra, ureters, or kidneys, urinary tract infections (UTIs) are quite common.  UTIs can be viral or fungal but are predominately bacterial in nature.  Because of their anatomy, women are at a higher risk for developing UTIs than men.  Anyone that suspects they may have a UTI, is likely wondering how long the infection will last.  To provide insight into the length of infection, we will discuss some of the general UTI symptoms and the treatments available in this discussion.

UTI Symptoms

As previously mentioned, UTIs affect the bladder, kidneys, urethra, and ureters.  The symptoms associated with the UTI vary based on the area infected.  Early signs and symptoms, when the infection is impacting the bladder, generally involve discomfort, pain, or a burning sensation when urinating.  Often this discomfort is accompanied by the frequent or urgent need to urinate.  Urine may appear cloudy, have blood present, or have a strong odor.

Should a UTI become more advanced and spread to the kidneys, symptoms may be more severe.  A high grade fever (above 101°F), chills, fatigue, and pain in the back, side, or groin may develop.  Severe abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting may also present.

Treatment and Duration of UTI

A healthcare provider will first perform tests to identify the type of UTI the patient is believed to have.  This typically will involve taking urine samples to look for bacteria, red blood cells, white blood cells, and to test chemicals in the urine (such as nitrites).  In other cases, blood tests, CT scans, kidney scans, or ultrasounds may be ordered to diagnose the infection.

For mild lower urinary tract infections (bladder infection), most patients will be prescribed an antibiotic to prevent the UTI from spreading to their kidneys.  Women generally take antibiotics for 3 days whereas men take them for 7-14 days or more.  In some cases, a single dose of antibiotic is sufficient.  Should the patient be pregnant, have diabetes, or a mild kidney infection, antibiotics are taken for 7 to 14 days.  Lower urinary tract infection symptoms typically begin to clear up within 24 hours of starting antibiotics.  Regardless of the type of infection, it is important that the patient finish the antibiotic for the full course of treatment even if symptoms begin to clear up.  Failure to finish the antibiotics could lead to the infection recurring and it becoming resistant to antibiotics.

Should a urinary tract infection become severe and spread to the upper urinary tract (kidneys), treatment also typically involves antibiotics.  Young patients that are otherwise healthy, can be treated as outpatients by receiving IV antibiotics and fluids followed by a 10 to 14 day course of oral antibiotics.  If the patient is very ill, dehydrated, or cannot hold food down, they may be admitted to the hospital for fluids and antibiotics until well enough to switch to oral medications.  Acute, complicated UTIs could necessitate treatment for several weeks.  In general, upper urinary tract infection symptoms take longer to resolve.  Patients will frequently see improvement in the symptoms within 24 hours of beginning treatment but often will take longer until symptoms are fully resolved.

More on Urinary Tract Infections : How to know if you have a urinary tract infection?