UTI symptoms may come and go before or shortly after starting treatment. Persistent UTI symptoms may result from incomplete or improper treatment, while new or returning symptoms could be a sign of a recurrent infection.
Understanding your chance of UTIs can help narrow down the underlying cause of your symptoms, particularly if you complete a course of antibiotics and your symptoms continue after you think they’ve resolved.
While people with any genital makeup can develop a UTI, people with a vulva may be more likely to experience UTIs than people with a penis, explains Claudia Pastorelli Mosca, OB-GYN, medical advisor at Flo Health, Germany.
This has to do with the location and length of the urethra, she says.
The more risk factors you have for UTIs, the more likely you might develop a new or recurrent infection.
“Recurrent urinary infections are defined as having two or more UTIs within 6 months, or more than three in a year,” says Pastorelli Mosca.
If you have a vulva, you may also be
The following can
- sexual activity, including masturbation and partner sex
- conditions that affect the flow of urine between the kidneys and bladder, including kidney stones
- receiving a kidney transplant
- recent or current catheter use or antibiotic use
“You may also be at a higher risk if you do not consume a lot of water and are frequently constipated,” says Aleece Fosnight, a board certified physician assistant and medical adviser at Aeroflow Urology.
UTIs usually don’t resolve without medical intervention.
Doctors can help treat simple or “uncomplicated” UTIs by prescribing a 3- to 5-day oral antibiotics course. Sometimes, they can prescribe oral antibiotics for up to 14 days.
They can also help treat severe or “complicated” UTIs by providing intramuscular (IM) or intravenous (IV) antibiotics.
If your clinician has reason to believe that your UTI has progressed to the upper urinary tract, they might prescribe a combination of oral, IM, and IV antibiotics.
Whatever your treatment plan, following it to the letter is important. It may be tempting to stop taking antibiotics or other prescription medications when you feel better, but this can interfere with the healing process.
The infection and the bacteria that caused the infection can still be present even after your symptoms have subsided, says Fosnight.
More than one kind of bacteria can cause a UTI.
If you still have UTI symptoms after receiving medical treatment, the treatment may’ve been ineffective for your specific bacterial infection.
Your clinician will likely order a urine culture, which involves taking a urine sample to test for different bacteria or pathogens in a lab, says Pastorelli Mosca.
“This allows providers to determine exactly which bacteria is causing the infection and then to prescribe the exact antibiotic that will treat it,” she says.
The overall likelihood of antibiotic resistance depends on the type of bacteria causing the infection, explains Pastorelli Mosca. When it comes to UTIs, E. coli is usually the cause.
“The main cause of antibiotic resistance is indiscriminate use of antibiotics,” says Pastorelli Mosca. “Often, antibiotics are necessary but need to be chosen with care and knowledge to avoid resistance.”
That’s why some healthcare professionals recommend various lab tests — aka a “full workup” — at the first sign of urinary or pelvic symptoms.
Co-occurring infection or illness is also possible. The following conditions can cause symptoms a UTI may mask or worsen:
Consult a healthcare professional if your urinary and pelvic symptoms stick around even after treatment.
They can confirm the diagnosis, rule out other conditions, and recommend a new treatment plan based on their findings.
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.