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Doctor K: OK to prevent UTI with daily antibiotics

DEAR DOCTOR K: I’m a 42-year-old woman. This year I’ve had four urinary tract infections. Each cleared up with antibiotics. But now my doctor wants me to take a preventive antibiotic every day. Is this safe?

DEAR READER: Urinary tract infections are surprisingly common in women of all ages. Most UTIs occur in the bladder. As you know from experience, the symptoms include frequent, urgent and painful urination, bloody urine, and pressure or pain in your lower abdomen. Less often, your kidneys may become infected.

Most UTIs are caused by E. coli, bacteria that live in human feces. E. coli can travel from the anus to the urethra during such activities as going to the bathroom and having sex. From the urethra, the bacteria can move up the urinary tract to the bladder or kidneys.

Antibiotics are effective in preventing recurrent UTIs, and it is safe to take antibiotics preventively for up to several years.

Still, one concern is the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These bacteria can cause infections that cannot be treated with antibiotics. Your doctor will try to avoid this by prescribing the lowest dose that’s still effective.

You may also experience side effects. These can include diarrhea, nausea and yeast infections of the vagina or mouth.

If you’re still concerned, try the following to prevent your risk of recurrent UTIs. If these steps are effective, you may be able to forgo the antibiotics.

• Urinate before and after intercourse.

• Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.

• Urinate as soon as you have the urge, whenever possible.

• Wipe front to back after a bowel movement.

• If you are postmenopausal, try a vaginal estrogen cream.

Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. Go to his website to send questions and get additional information:

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