Non-surgical management of recurrent urinary tract infections in women
One in three women will experience a clinically significant urinary tract infection (UTI) by age twenty-four and almost half will have at least one in their lifetime. Recurrent UTIs (rUTIs) are defined as having greater than two infections in a 6-month period, or three infections over twelve months, with complete resolution for at least two weeks. These may be due to relapse from incomplete treatment (persistence) or re-infection (new source). It may be difficult to distinguish between the two, where the same organism is cultured. There are several risk factors for rUTIs including an impairment of the body’s immune system and virulence factors. Reversible or treatable causes are sought and excluded in the patient’s initial review. Patient’s with rUTI are often complex and difficult to manage. The long-term management options in women are multimodal and should focus on prevention of relapse and recurrence. Behavioural factors include adequate hydration, care with sexual hygiene, reducing one’s body mass index (BMI) and post-void residual (PVR) volume. There are several non-antimicrobial options for rUTIs which have become a multi-billion-dollar business. Unfortunately, there are numerous studies which fail to show any major benefit or having conflicting data. Vaccines are currently being explored as a prevention strategy, delivered through injection, intra-nasal sprays, or vaginal suppositories, which are made from combinations of heat killed uro-pathogenic strains. There are no widely available vaccines at present due to limited clinical success. It is well established that appropriate antibiotic therapy results in higher rates of symptom relief and bacterial eradication in women with uncomplicated cystitis. There are several options for antimicrobial use which have been shown to be highly effective in reducing the risk of rUTI in women. The pain and discomfort of the UTI must be balanced with the cost and risk of developing resistance when using antimicrobials. Continuous prophylaxis, pre- and post-coital voiding, and self-starting are the three commonly accepted options for prophylaxis. The choice between these will depend upon patient preference, cultures and previous pattern of infection. Intra-vesical instillation of hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulphate have been used for glycosaminoglycan (GAG) layer replenishment for many indications, including interstitial cystitis, overactive bladder syndrome, radiation cystitis and prevention of rUTI. At present, intra-vesical therapies are reserved for only those with the most unresponsive rUTIs. The principles of treating rUTI are to break the cycle and to treat any reversible causes. With our ever-expanding research knowledge, there are now many useful products that may be used for the successful treatment of rUTI. A management plan including a combination of a non-antimicrobial and selective antimicrobial regime for a minimum of six months should be considered. It is a prudent clinician that clearly defines this management plan, with reassurance of a finite period of therapy.