Urinary tract infections are a common occurrence and are often treated with over-the-counter drugs. The problem with treating urinary tract infections these days is that some of them are treated with over the counter UTI medicine, and UTI can only be reliably treated with antibiotics. It should be known to all that we are currently facing an antibiotic apocalypse, wherein bacteria are gaining resistance to all the antibiotics we have at our disposal, including colistin, one of our last resort antibiotics that also harms the patient. This is due to irresponsible use of antibiotics – not just for patients, but for livestock. In any case, a word of caution before self-medicating with over the counter UTI medicine – don’t. One should go to a physician and get an actual prescription. Usually, this will involve a urinalysis, less commonly a urine bacterial culture.
In any case, as a precaution, this list will not deal with antibiotics, as antibiotics are to be used upon confirmation of bacterial infection and culture to confirm the causative agent. Alternative UTI medicine is used as symptom relief, such as analegesics and antipyretics, listed below:
- Phenazopyridine is a drug taken to be excreted in the urine. It affects the urinary tract lining to provide analgesic relief. When used with antibiotics as instructed by a physician, this drug is more often than not limited to two days, to prevent masking of symptoms. Side effects of this drug include a notable change in urine color to dark orange to red. This change is actually important to know that the drug is supposed to be taking effect. This drug can also cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, or an upset stomach, especially when taken without food. Sometimes, it can cause one to appear slightly jaundiced, especially when taken for too long, because it indicates a buildup in the body due to decreased kidney excretion. In this case, use of this drug should be stopped. In more severe cases, nails can be yellowed. Additionally, other side effects are fever, shortness of breath, skin rash, and swelling of the extremities. It should not be used if one has glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency because it can destroy red blood cells from the oxidative stress.
- Acetaminophen (paracetamol). This is used as an antipyretic and a partial analgesic against the possible systemic infection that may be part of the urinary tract infection. A neat trick one can use with paracetamol is to take it with some coffee, as caffeine with paracetamol is somehow more effective as a pain reliever than paracetamol alone. Keep in mind that this is once more another symptom reliever, and not an actual treatment for the infection. If one suspects an infection, one should see a competent physician. Side effects include acute severe liver toxicity upon overdose. Rule of thumb for paracetamol is that an intake of 2 grams (usually 4 tablets, since a tablet is usually 500 milligrams) in 24 hours is to be avoided at all costs. This risk increases if one is an alcoholic, since the liver has to metabolize both the alcohol and the paracetamol. In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned that paracetamol may rarely cause severe adverse skin reactions such as Steven-Johnson Syndrome. It should also be noted that paracetamol is not to be used as an anti-inflammatory.
- Cranberry juice. While this is not actually a treatment for urinary tract infection, some research suggests that cranberry juice can prevent the attachment of infectious agents to the urinary tract lining, and prevent infection. There is no consensus for the use of this treatment modality, however.
In summary, these are drugs to be used for temporary relief of the symptoms of urinary tract infections, to see if the disease resolves by itself. If, after stopping the use of the drugs, symptoms appear again, then the best course of action, as always, is to seek professional help. Over the counter UTI medicine can only do so much for anyone.