Women with frequent urinary tract infections report being unhappy at perceived overuse of antibiotics by their doctors and with the limited treatment options available to them, according to a new study.
The study highlights the need to get to the cause of women’s recurrent UTIs, to come up with prevention and to avoid unnecessary antibiotics use, which can eventually lead to resistance.
“Since there’s already a common treatment for UTIs – antibiotics – many doctors don’t see a need to do anything differently,” said senior author Dr Ja-Hong Kim, an associate professor at UCLA Health. “This study really gave us insight into the patient perspective and showed us those with recurrent UTIs are dissatisfied with the current management of the condition. Continued episodes can have a major impact on their quality of life.”
More than half of women will develop a UTI at some point, and roughly 1 in 4 will have repeat infections that can last for years. Many with recurrent infections will be prescribed antibiotics frequently over their lifetime.
The researchers conducted focus groups with 29 women with recurrent UTIs, which were defined as two infections in six months or three in a year. Participants were asked about their knowledge of UTIs and prevention strategies and about treatment impact on their quality of life. Two common themes were revealed: fear and frustration.
Participants were concerned foremost about antibiotic use, with a fear of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions and developing resistance. Some also reported antibiotic treatment for symptoms which may have signified other genitourinary conditions, like an overactive bladder.
“Other bladder diseases can cause symptoms similar to recurrent UTIs, such as urination frequency and urgency, pain with urination and blood in the urine,” Dr Kim said. “These could be signs of an overactive bladder, interstitial cystitis, kidney or bladder stones, or something more serious, like bladder cancer. As physicians, we really need to be careful about not just giving patients with these symptoms antibiotics without verifying a UTI through a positive urine culture.”
SInce diagnoses take 48 hours, women can wait days for the correct prescription. This shows the need for better diagnostic tools, Dr Kim said.
Frustration and resentment toward their medical providers for “throwing antibiotics” at them without presenting alternative options for treatment and prevention, and for not understanding their experience with UTIs. In addition, many said their physicians did not properly educate them on the potential negative impacts of antibiotics; the women instead had to rely on information from the internet, magazines and TV.
Beyond improved diagnostics, treatment approaches and guidelines, better patient education is key, Dr Kim said. “We need to do a better job of letting patients know when antibiotics are necessary and when to consider alternative therapy for bladder conditions other than UTIs.”
Dr Kim and her colleagues are currently working to improve UTI diagnosis and management, including developing comprehensive patient-care pathways through which primary care physicians and general gynecologists and urologists will provide initial UTI patient education and management. They are also pursuing studies examining the relationship of the vaginal microbiome to lower urinary tract symptoms and are working to incorporate novel diagnostic methods to allow for point-of-care treatment for UTIs.