Urinary tract infections (UTIs) unfortunately present an abundant opportunity for us to reflexively and mindlessly contribute to filling up the globe with multidrug resistant bacteria. Many of us have patients with recurrent UTIs, who, despite our best efforts at trying to reduce recurrence through non–medication approaches, frequently call for treatment. We stand by helplessly as we watch the resistance of these organisms increase.

Is there another way?

Investigators in Germany evaluated the benefit and harms of prescribing ibuprofen in place of an antibiotic in women with symptoms of a UTI and no risk factors ( BMC Med. 2010 May 26;8:30 ). Women aged 18-65 years were randomized to a single dose of the broad-spectrum antibiotic fosfomycin 3 g (n = 246) or ibuprofen three 400-mg doses (n = 248) for 3 days. Patients were excluded if they had any signs of upper urinary tract infection, pregnancy, urinary catheterization, gastrointestinal ulcers, or chronic conditions. Antibiotics were prescribed for persistent, worsening, or recurrent symptoms.

Women in the ibuprofen group received significantly fewer antibiotic prescriptions (283 in the fosfomycin group and 94 in the ibuprofen group; incidence rate reduction of 66.5%; 95% confidence interval, 58.8%-74.4%; P less than .001). The ibuprofen group had more symptoms that lasted a day longer. On day 4, 56% of women in the fosfomycin vs. 39% of participants in the ibuprofen group were symptom free, which increased to 82% and 70% by day 7. The ibuprofen group were more likely to develop pyelonephritis (five cases in the ibuprofen group and one in the fosfomycin group; P = .12), but all women were treated and recovered fully. Four events led to “hospital referrals,” only one of which was related to trial drug (gastrointestinal hemorrhage).

In summary, two-thirds of women in the ibuprofen group recovered without antibiotic treatment and one-third received antibiotics for persistent or worsening symptoms. The authors concluded that ibuprofen was inferior to fosfomycin for initial symptomatic treatment. The nonstatistically higher rate of upper urinary tract infection with ibuprofen may make some clinicians nervous.

However, perhaps this is worth exploring for select patients with mild symptoms. The investigators mention data suggesting women may be aware of disadvantages of antibiotics and may be open to the idea of delaying or avoiding treatment, which opens the door to informed discussions. I am planning to discuss it with my patient who has frequent UTIs to see if we can delay intravenous antibiotics for UTI. Intravenous antibiotics for UTI make me uncomfortable for a variety of reasons.

Dr. Ebbert is professor of medicine, a general internist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a diplomate of the American Board of Addiction Medicine. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Mayo Clinic. The opinions expressed in this article should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition nor should they be used as a substitute for medical advice from a qualified, board-certified practicing clinician. Dr. Ebbert has no relevant financial disclosures about this article.

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