Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections: What's Good Prophylaxis?

Andrea Hertlein

October 31, 2022

For those affected, recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) are sometimes stressful. However, even an informative discussion about risk factors and the imparting of behavioral recommendations can be very helpful for many women. Antibiotic prophylaxis should only be considered once all nonantibiotic therapy options have been exhausted.

One in seven women suffers at least once a year from cystitis. Around a third of those women develop a further urinary tract infection 6-12 months after the first infection. A urinary tract infection is classified as recurrent if two symptomatic episodes have occurred within the last 6 months or if three episodes have occurred within the last 12 months.

There are many different approaches to reducing the recurrence rate of urinary tract infections, Daniel Klußmann and Florian Wagenlehner, MD, of the Department and Outpatient Clinic for Urology at the University of Giessen, Germany, wrote in DMW- Klinischer Fortschritt. Aside from general information and advice, nonantibiotic therapy options are particularly important for recurrence reduction, with the aim of preventing the development of resistance and the corresponding adverse effects of antibiotics. 

Fluids and D-Mannose

An individual consultation discussion is the most important nonantibiotic strategy. Studies have shown that this strategy alone can lower the frequency of recurrent UTIs. According to the authors, special education programs on the causes and behavioral measures are especially helpful. Included in these programs is the recommendation to drink a sufficient, but not excessive, amount of fluids: approximately 1.5 liters per day. In one randomized study, this level of consumption halved UTI frequency. However, drinking an excessive amount of fluids should also be avoided, otherwise the antimicrobial peptides present in the urine become overly diluted.

The regular consumption of fruit juice, especially of that from berries, is also beneficial, according to the authors. However, study results on long-term prevention using cranberry products are inconsistent, and they are not recommended in the updated guideline. Like cranberries, D-mannose also inhibits the fimbriae of the E coli bacteria and therefore the bacteria's ability to bind to the bladder epithelium. The authors cite a study in which, following the intake of 2 g of D-mannose dissolved in a glass of water every day, the rate of urinary tract infections dropped significantly, compared with consumption of placebo.

Additional recommendations in the S3 guideline include various phytotherapeutic products such as bearberry leaves, nasturtium herb, or horseradish root, although studies on the comparability of phytotherapeutic agents are very difficult to execute, the authors conceded.

It is already known that there is a positive correlation (by a factor of 60) between the recurrence rate of UTIs and the frequency of sexual intercourse. Even with contraceptive methods (such as vaginal suppositories, diaphragms or condoms coated with spermicide, and intrauterine devices), the risk of urinary tract infections increases by a factor of 2 to 14. Sexual abstinence, even if temporary, can be a remedy. Evidence for the recommendation to urinate immediately after coitus is contradictory in the literature, however. Excessive intimate hygiene clearly damages the local protective environment.

Estrogen Substitution Beneficial

For postmenopausal women, there is also the option of local estriol substitution (0.5 mg/day) as another nonantibiotic method of prophylaxis. This treatment serves as therapy for vaginal atrophy and reduces both vaginal colonization with uropathogens and the vaginal pH level. The authors cite Scandinavian studies that detected no increase in the risk of breast cancer from the local application of estriol.

Furthermore, the current guidelines recommend oral immunostimulation with bacterial cell wall components from uropathogenic strains of E coli (OM-89, Uro-Vaxom). The authors reported on two meta-studies in which the average recurrence rate was reduced by 39%, compared with placebo. In addition, the treatment time for breakthrough infections decreased significantly, and prevention with OM-89 could even be started during acute therapy. Also recommended is parenteral immunostimulation with inactivated pathogens (StroVac). Acupuncture as cutaneous immunostimulation has also displayed a positive protective effect.

Only when nonantibiotic therapy fails and the patient is under a high amount of psychological strain should antibiotic prophylaxis be initiated, according to the authors. A period of three to six months should be the target here. When choosing an antibiotic and before starting therapy, the corresponding pathogen should be confirmed through a urine culture, and resistance testing should be performed. On the other hand, single-use, postcoital antibiotic prevention could be an alternative, particularly for women in whom a correlation between recurrent UTIs and sexual intercourse has been suspected, the authors wrote.

This article was translated from Univadis Germany.

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