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If You Have a UTI, Please Don't Take Ibuprofen

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More than half of all women will have a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point in their lives. If you've never experienced the burning, painful, and sometimes bloody urination that comes with this awful bacterial infection, consider yourself lucky. But we have to warn you — and everyone else — that if you get a UTI in the future, you should never try to cure it by using ibuprofen. Based on a recent study, using the popular pain reliever without the standard treatment of antibiotics could actually make your infection much worse. Unfortunately, some women are actually trying this so-called "treatment."

The May 2018 study published in PLOS Medicine analyzed 383 women with UTIs, 178 of whom used antibiotics for three days, and 181 of whom used ibuprofen as a symptomatic treatment without any antibiotics. Then, the researchers monitored the participants' symptoms, bacterial growth from urinary samples, and any adverse effects that occured. As it turned out, women who received ibuprofen without antibiotics took three days longer to get well on average. By day four of treatment, 74 percent of those who took antibiotics had recovered, while only 39 percent of the folks who took ibuprofen could say the same. The news was even worse for some women in the ibuprofen group: 6.6 percent of them developed a febrile UTI (a very severe kind with possible long-term consequences) and 3.9 percent of them developed a serious kidney infection. Neither of those awful problems happened in the antibiotic group.

So in other words, using ibuprofen without antibiotics for UTIs not only leads to a potentially longer time experiencing the symptoms, but also the possibility of more serious health complications down the line. Yikes! If anyone ever tries to convince you to use ibuprofen for UTIs, just remember that these results pretty much speak for themselves.

If you've had a UTI or two already, you may be scratching your head right now and wondering why anyone would use ibuprofen for UTI in the first place. After all, the standard treatment of antibiotics is widely accepted by most healthcare professionals. It also seems like a strange idea in general to use ibuprofen for any bacterial infection, including a UTI. Well, for one thing, antibiotic resistance — the reduced effectiveness of certain drugs — is a growing public health problem getting more serious day by day. Additionally, some previous studies have suggested that ibuprofen could possibly help support recovery from UTIs for some women. On top of that, a lot of people do take ibuprofen for pain in general, so if they're uninformed about UTIs, they may think their go-to medication could solve the mysterious problem.

Even though some women in the latest study did get better without taking antibiotics, the researchers concluded that it is not safe to recommend ibuprofen instead of antibiotics for UTIs, mostly due to the increased risk of developing a more serious infection.

"Initial treatment with ibuprofen could reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics in this group," they wrote. "However, until we can identify those women in need of antibiotic treatment to prevent complications, we cannot recommend ibuprofen alone to women with uncomplicated UTIs."

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