How Is a Urinary Tract Infection Treated?

Young woman sitting on bed and feeling sick, taking medicines in hand with a glass of water

AsiaVision / Getty Images

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection that affects a part of the urinary system, such as the bladder, kidneys, ureters, or urethra. When bacteria enter the body through the urethra (the duct where urine exits the body) and cause an infection, symptoms like painful and frequent urination, abdominal cramps, fever, and smelly, cloudy, or bloody urine can occur.

UTIs are one of the most common infections in the body and can affect people of any age and sex. An estimated 60% of women and 12% of men will experience at least one UTI in their lifetime.

If you have symptoms of a UTI, your primary care physician, gynecologist (a doctor specializing in the female reproductive system), or urologist (a doctor specializing in the urinary system) will provide a diagnosis and treatment.


Once a urine test confirms a urinary tract infection diagnosis, your healthcare provider will prescribe medication to eliminate the infection and help you feel better. Antibiotics are often prescribed to clear the infection and prevent complications, and over-the-counter pain relievers may help relieve some symptoms.


Antibiotics, which are medications that kill bacteria, are the first-line treatment for most UTIs. Many antibiotics are used to treat UTIs, killing the bacteria causing the infection. The antibiotic prescribed depends on which part of the urinary tract is infected (e.g., bladder, kidneys), the strain of bacteria that led to the infection, and your medical history.

For most people with an uncomplicated UTI, a 3-day course of oral antibiotics (taken by mouth) is enough to destroy the bacteria and cure the infection. A longer course of antibiotics may be required for complicated UTIs or UTIs in the kidneys. If you have a severe infection, your healthcare provider may give the first dose of antibiotic therapy intravenously (IV) and prescribe daily oral antibiotics for up to 2 weeks.

It is important to finish the entire course of antibiotics, even if you feel better and no longer have symptoms. This helps ensure the bacteria are fully eradicated from your urinary tract and lowers the risk of a UTI recurrence (reinfection).

Over-the-Counter (OTC)

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, including Advil (ibuprofen) and Tylenol (acetaminophen), may help relieve some UTI symptoms. While these medications may provide temporary pain relief, they will not treat the UTI and are not a replacement for antibiotics and other medications your healthcare provider prescribes. 

Another OTC drug, phenazopyridine, directly targets the urinary tract to relieve UTI symptoms, including pain, burning, irritation, and frequent urination. It is widely available at pharmacies and drug stores under brands such as Azo, Nefreci, and Urostat. Phenazopyridine will not treat the infection, so it should only be used for symptom relief while waiting for your antibiotics to take effect.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

While there is little scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies for treating UTIs, some may help relieve symptoms or prevent UTIs. 


Cranberry products, such as juice and capsules, have long been touted as an effective way to prevent UTIs, but research study results show mixed results. Some studies suggest that cranberry may help lower the risk of recurrent UTIs by preventing bacteria from attaching to the urinary tract lining. Other studies—especially those in high-risk populations such as older adults or people with multiple sclerosis—have found cranberry products ineffective.


D-mannose is a type of sugar naturally present in fruits. Commonly marketed as a dietary supplement to prevent UTIs, D-mannose may stop bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall, making it easier for the body to flush harmful bacteria out of the urinary tract. Research suggests that D-mannose used in combination with antibiotics may increase the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy, but further research is needed.

Dietary supplements are minimally regulated by the FDA and may or may not be suitable for you. The effects of supplements vary from person to person and depend on many variables, including type, dosage, frequency of use, and interactions with current medications. Please speak with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before starting any supplements.


A component of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into the skin at specific points on the body. Research shows that acupuncture may help relieve UTI symptoms, boost the effectiveness of antibiotics, and help prevent recurrent UTIs. 

Editor’s Note: This article informs you about possible observed health changes related to the use of complementary or alternative medicine based on limited available research. Not all complementary and alternative medicines have been evaluated for safety and efficacy in clinical trials. You should consult a licensed healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment for any health conditions and inform them about any change you make to your regimen.


Though antibiotic therapy is the gold standard for treating most UTIs, evidence suggests that many of the most common UTI-causing bacteria are increasingly antibiotic-resistant (can thrive despite the use of antibiotics). For this reason, your healthcare provider may recommend a “watch and wait” approach if you have a mild UTI. At-home remedies and lifestyle modifications may help relieve symptoms while your body fights the infection. 

Lifestyle modifications and at-home remedies that may help manage a UTI include: 

  • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, can help flush out bacteria from the urinary tract. Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water each day.
  • Urinate frequently: Though you may already be making more bathroom trips than usual, emptying your bladder when you feel the urge to urinate to help flush bacteria out of the urinary tract is important. 
  • Use a heating pad: Applying a heating pad to the lower abdomen can help relieve abdominal pain and discomfort caused by a UTI.
  • Increase vitamin C intake: Consuming more vitamin C-rich foods (e.g., oranges, bell peppers, tomatoes) may make your urine more acidic, which makes it more difficult for bacteria to grow. Vitamin C supplementation or eating more vitamin C may help prevent UTIs or help the body fight an existing infection.
  • Garlic extract: Research suggests that supplementing with garlic extract may help reduce levels of bacteria associated with UTIs, helping prevent UTI recurrence.
  • Wear loose clothing: Wearing comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and cotton underwear can help keep the urethra dry to prevent the growth of bacteria.

Living With and Managing a Urinary Tract Infection

The pain and discomfort of living with a urinary tract infection can disrupt your life and make it hard to work, socialize, sleep, and participate in activities you usually enjoy. Fortunately, UTIs can be quickly and effectively treated with antibiotics, and most people feel better within a couple of days of starting treatment. When left untreated, a UTI can spread to other areas of the body, leading to serious complications such as kidney damage or sepsis.

Talk to your healthcare provider if your symptoms persist or worsen with treatment. They may recommend a different type of antibiotic to get rid of the infection and lower the risk of complications. 

Along with following your healthcare provider’s treatment instructions, drinking plenty of fluids, taking OTC pain relievers, boosting your vitamin C intake, and wearing loose-fitting clothing may help manage symptoms and help you feel better sooner.  Practicing good hygiene, such as wiping from front to back, urinating after sex, changing sanitary pads often, and avoiding scented feminine hygiene products, can help prevent UTI recurrence.

A Quick Review

Antibiotics can effectively treat most urinary tract infections. Antibiotic therapy may last between three to 14 days, depending on severity. Over-the-counter pain medications (e.g., ibuprofen) can help relieve pain and discomfort caused by UTIs. Drinking plenty of fluids like water and cranberry juice and increasing your vitamin C intake can help flush out the bacteria and may help prevent recurrent UTIs.

Was this page helpful?
16 Sources uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Urinary tract infection.

  2. American Urological Association. What is a urinary tract infection (UTI) in adults?

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office on Women’s Health. Urinary tract infections.

  4. Kang CI, Kim J, Park DW, et al. Clinical practice guidelines for the antibiotic treatment of community-acquired urinary tract infections. Infect Chemother. 2018;50(1):67-100. doi:10.3947/ic.2018.50.1.67

  5. MedlinePlus. Phenazopyridine

  6. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Cranberry.

  7. Ala-Jaakkola R, Laitila A, Ouwehand AC, Lehtoranta L. Role of D-mannose in urinary tract infections - a narrative review. Nutr J. 2022;21(1):18. doi:10.1186/s12937-022-00769-x

  8. Qin X, Coyle ME, Yang L, et al. Acupuncture for recurrent urinary tract infection in women: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BJOG. 2020;127(12):1459-1468. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.16315

  9. Beahm NP, Nicolle LE, Bursey A, Smyth DJ, Tsuyuki RT. The assessment and management of urinary tract infections in adults: Guidelines for pharmacists. Can Pharm J (Ott). 2017;150(5):298-305. doi:10.1177/1715163517723036

  10.  Hooton TM, Vecchio M, Iroz A, et al. Effect of increased daily water intake in premenopausal women with recurrent urinary tract infections: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(11):1509–1515. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.4204

  11. Afazel MR, Jalali E, Sadat Z, Mahmoodi H. Comparing the effects of hot pack and lukewarm-water-soaked gauze on postoperative urinary retention; a randomized controlled clinical trial. Nurs Midwifery Stud. 2014;3(4):e24606. doi:10.17795/nmsjournal24606

  12. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Urinary tract infections.

  13. Lionel OO, Adegboyega IP, Ezekiel AO, Olufunke BC. Antimicrobial activity of garlic (Allium sativum ) on selected uropathogens from cases of urinary tract infection. Annals of Tropical Pathology. 2020;11(2):133. doi:10.4103/atp.atp_9_20

  14. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Treatment for bladder infection in adults.

  15. Sepsis Alliance. Urinary tract infections.

  16. Government of Alberta. Urinary tract infection (UTI) in women: care instructions.

Related Articles