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Most women receive the wrong treatment for UTIs

Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

Women who get urinary tract infections know the drill: sharp pain, discomfort and a chug of cranberry juice followed by a trip to the doctor for antibiotics. While relief may come within a day or so after prescription medicines start to kick in, a new study reveals that most women are actually receiving inappropriate treatment.

Almost half of women (47%) with a UTI are given the wrong antibiotics, while a whopping 76% are treated with antibiotics for longer than necessary, according to the study, published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology. Inappropriate antibiotic treatment was also much more common in rural areas. The study included data for more than 670,000 women between 18 and 44 who were diagnosed with an uncomplicated UTI between April 2011 and June 2015.

The findings uncover “serious patient- and society-level consequences,” lead study author Anne Mobley Butler, PhD, of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a statement. UTIs are extremely common among women, and the infection can be painful and even become serious if left untreated as it can spread to the kidneys. In the U.S., 1 in 5 women will contract a UTI sometime in their lifetime, according to Cleveland Clinic.

Rural patients had worse care than their urban counterparts, as they were more likely to be prescribed antibiotics for an “inappropriately long duration.” In general, the biggest issue was prescribing antibiotics that were too broad, where more specified medicines for shorter durations were likely better treatments.

“Accumulating evidence suggests that patients have better outcomes when we change prescribing from broad-acting to narrow-spectrum antibiotics and from longer to shorter durations,” Butler stated. “Promoting optimal antimicrobial use benefits the patient and society by preventing avoidable adverse events, microbiome disruption, and antibiotic-resistant infections.”

Taking the wrong antibiotics or taking too many can have long-lasting health implications by causing bacteria to become resilient. In other words, the huge missteps in treatment for women with UTIs could make antibiotics ineffective against the infections in the future.

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