How Long Does a UTI Last? We Asked Urologists
Symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) can feel like they go on forever. After all, time doesn't exactly move at a fast clip when you're constantly running to the bathroom and it feels like you're peeing red-hot razor blades. But how long does a typical UTI last?
The answer: It depends. If you've got a UTI in your bladder (the most common spot for them to happen), you're looking at anywhere from one to seven days, says Jennifer A. Linehan, MD, a urologist and associate professor of urologic oncology at the Saint John's Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
"But if you have a kidney infection, it will take 14 days to treat," she adds.
Let's take a closer look at how long it takes for a UTI to clear up, along with some tips on finding relief ASAP.
How long does a UTI last?
While most UTIs last no longer than a week, there are a variety of factors that can influence when you'll finally feel better and when your body will completely clear out the bacteria.
When thinking about how long a UTI's going to last, the first thing to consider is whether it's considered uncomplicated or complicated. As the American Urological Association (AUA) explains, uncomplicated UTIs are far more common than complicated UTIs (more on those in a minute). They tend to be located in the lower urinary tract (usually the bladder) and don't have other factors that could make them more difficult to treat.
How long an uncomplicated UTI lasts can vary based on what you do (if anything) to treat it. Sometimes your body's immune system can clear out the invading bacteria without any help from medications, says Courtenay Moore, MD, urologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center,.
"If untreated, a UTI would typically take about three to seven days to fight off on your own," Dr. Moore tells Health.
With that said, antibiotics are considered the "gold standard" for UTI treatment and it's always a good idea to get symptoms of a UTI checked out by a doctor.
Doctors often give people who show up with UTI symptoms a prescription for antibiotics that they think will kill the pathogen. They'll also take a urine sample to see what's going on. Once the lab results come back (usually in a day or two), the doctor may switch you to another antibiotic that's better at killing the particular bacteria responsible for your infection.
"Antibiotics will hasten the cure of the infection. Most of the time, you'll have symptomatic improvement within 36 hours," says Dr. Moore.
That means that once you've been prescribed the right medication for the bacteria behind your UTI, you'll feel better (ah, sweet relief!)—but that's different than being "cured." Even if you're no longer feeling a constant, urgent need to pee (or other symptoms of a UTI), the bacteria that caused it could still be lingering around, says Dr. Moore.
You'll usually need to take antibiotics for between three- to five-days total before the UTI is completely cleared up, Dr. Moore points out.
And while it's tempting to stop taking your meds the moment you feel better, finishing the antibiotics as prescribed is super important.
"What can happen is if you take part of your course of antibiotics and don't completely eradicate all the bacteria, you can create a strain of bacteria that's resistant to the antibiotics," Dr. Linehan tells Health.
Even worse: Those bacteria could multiply and create a new infection—one that's harder to treat and could end up lasting longer. So, take all the antibiotics your doctor recommends, just to be safe.
How long does a complicated UTI last?
Complicated UTIs can last a couple of weeks. According to the American Urological Association, a number of different factors can determine if a UTI is complicated, including:
- whether you're pregnant or post-menopausal
- if it's caused by bacteria that's resistant to multiple drugs
- something abnormal in your urinary tract (such as kidney stones)
- if you have a catheter, stent, nephrostomy tubes, or other medical devices
- if you have a chronic condition, like diabetes or a compromised immune system
If you've got a complicated UTI, you'll need treatment with a longer course of oral antibiotics, and potentially intravenous antibiotics, as well, per the AUA. But while treatment will last 14 days, you'll probably feel better much sooner. "As your body starts to fight infection, that burning with urination will improve," says Dr. Moore.
How long do kidney infections last?
If the bacteria from a bladder infection make their way up to your kidneys, you've got a more serious situation. A kidney infection (or pyelonephritis) can take up to 14 days to resolve with treatment, says AUA.
Unlike a simple bladder infection, a kidney infection's not going to resolve on its own. You'll need a longer course of antibiotics, often through an IV for a couple of days before switching to an oral version, AUA explains.
You might have a kidney infection if you have symptoms of a UTI, plus chills, fever, and/or pain in your back, side, or abdominal area. These are red flags to get care right away. This type of UTI can cause permanent damage to your kidneys and even lead to sepsis, an extreme immune response that can be deadly.
How long do UTIs last in men?
UTIs can last up to 14 days in men, says AUA. It's less common for men to get UTIs, but when they do get this type of infection, it's considered complicated and treated on the same timeline as complicated UTIs in women.
The AUA recommends that men take antibiotics for seven to 14 days if they have a bladder infection. As for kidney infections, men should get care right away to avoid a more serious condition and will probably need to take antibiotics for 14 days. The first couple days might involve IV antibiotics in the hospital, and assuming that goes well, the doctor will switch you over to oral antibiotics for the rest of the treatment.
How can you make a UTI go away faster?
Most of the time, UTIs go away pretty quickly—usually symptoms stop within a couple of days, and the bacteria completely clear out after taking antibiotics for three to seven days, per AUA. However, there are some things you can do to help speed up the healing process.
Here are some ways that might make a UTI go away faster (or at least help you feel better):
- Stay hydrated and pee often. Every time you pee, you're flushing some bacteria out of your system, so drinking lots of water may help you get rid of the UTI more quickly, says Dr. Moore. What's more, staying hydrated can also help you prevent another infection. A 2018 JAMA Internal Medicine study found that women with recurrent bladder infections who drank an additional 1.5 liters of water per day (on top of what they usually drank) had fewer UTIs than those who didn't up their hydration.
- Avoid caffeine. Skip your morning cup of coffee when you have a UTI. Research shows that caffeinated drinks can make urinary tract symptoms worse.
- Use a heating pad. UTIs don't just make peeing uncomfortable—they can also make your back and abdomen sore. A heating pad can help reduce pain and keep you more comfortable.
- Try over-the-counter pain relievers. Pain meds, like Advil or Tylenol, can help ease some discomfort while you're waiting for the antibiotics to work.
Generally speaking, the horrible discomfort of a UTI dissolves within a day or two of starting treatment, so rest assured: Relief is on the way. Just remember to take the full course of antibiotics to avoid a secondary infection that's even harder to treat than the first one.
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