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Urinary tract infections may be familiar to most of us, but they can have serious consequences — particularly in patients who suffer from recurring infections. A very simple solution may be on the horizon.

Most of us are familiar with urinary tract infections, and that is especially true for women. Half of all women will experience a UTI at some point in their life, while up to 40 percent will have recurring infections. Anyone who has ever had a UTI knows that they are irritating — quite literally. Yet these infections can also have serious consequences, including permanent kidney damage and delirium and confusion in older people. In rare cases, a UTI can even lead to death!

Urinary tract infections do, in short, deserve to be taken seriously. How can you prevent the recurrence of a UTI, and the potential risks that come with that?

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, MO, came up with a surprising preventative treatment — over the counter painkillers. 

Ibuprofen Makes UTIs Less Risky?

The team, which shared its findings at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, found that inhibiting an immune protein that leads to inflammation stopped mice from having recurrent UTIs. The protein, called COX-2, can be blocked by common over the counter painkillers in the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) category. 

The most well-known drug in this category is ibuprofen, probably something you already take for headaches, sore muscles or other aches and pains. Isn't it amazing to think that something as simple as ibuprofen could save you or someone you care about from the risks that come with recurrent urinary tract infections?

Most UTIs are caused by the bacterium Escherichia coli, which naturally resides in the digestive tract. Women are more prone to developing these infections because the female urethra is shorter, and the vagina and anus are in closer proximity to the bladder. Getting a UTI may n not sound like a big deal, but the risk of complications increases with each infection. 

How COX-2 Inhibitors Work

The research team explained that previous mouse studies showed that the body overreacts to an initial UTI, leaving immune cells called neutrophils in the lining of the bladder. This process changes the lining, which makes reinfection easier. Mice that were treated with "COX-2 inhibitors" saw a marked decrease in the risk of getting another infection. 

Specifically, the drugs prevented neutrophils — which still found their way into the bladder in large numbers — from doing damage to the bladder's lining.

This has something to do with their anti-inflammatory properties. The immune system is still able to fight the infection effectively, but without the huge inflammatory response. 

Researchers called the results of their study "encouraging". As always, there is still further research to conduct. The team said they now "hope to verify the potential benefits of COX-2 inhibitors soon in a large clinical trial".

The study's co-author, Thomas Hannan, commented: "If we can confirm this link in clinical trials, many people potentially could benefit very quickly. But for now, it's important to remember that urinary tract infections are serious, and antibiotic treatment is often necessary. Patients should not treat these infections on their own without help from a medical provider."

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