Meghan experienced recurring acute UTIs resulting in days lost from university and numerous courses of antibiotics.
The first time I remember having a UTI was during my teenage years. I had chills and fevers and felt I had to go to the toilet every 10 minutes which I found so painful. I drank lots of water but found it didn’t really help, so the GP prescribed a 3-day course of trimethoprim. This did thankfully clear the symptoms and infection on that occasion.
However as a university student, I suffered several more UTIs. During my final year, I had a really severe UTI infection. The symptoms of pain, discomfort on urinating, tiredness and constant urge to go to the toilet were intensified compared to previous experiences. I could think about nothing else but the symptoms!
The GP prescribed a 3-day course of trimethoprim again. This helped for a couple of days, but when I finished the course, the infection and symptoms simply came back again. The GP then took a sample to send away and prescribed a 7 day course of nitrofurantoin.
The antibiotic treatment itself was horrible. Although it alleviated the UTI symptoms, it brought its own problems – I had headaches, felt constantly nauseous and found it hard to drink. Cold drinks and food made my stomach churn even more and made me feel much worse.
What impact did your experience have on you?
The physical symptoms of UTI resulted in me feeling awful on so many levels; I felt weak physically, with no energy to do anything. I was not able to concentrate on my studies or coursework during the initial flare up of infection, due to the constant pain. I was unable to go to classes because I’d have to continually leave the lecture room or tutorial to go to the bathroom – which was extremely embarrassing and awkward. I felt unable and unwilling to explain this to my fellow students and lecturers – but it also left me with a lot of work to catch up on later when I felt better, which was a double blow. The symptoms of these UTIs were like a constant burden. My social life also suffered as I felt unable to do anything outside the house – so everything ground to a halt as I dealt with the pain, the constant toilet stops, the lack of energy and the embarrassment. But all through this time, I just accepted that these things happen to people, particularly females – and like the monthly cycle, I just got on with it, and dealt with it as best I could. I was glad the antibiotics worked after the second 7 day course – but they brought their own problems with nausea, headaches and stomach upset on eating and drinking – which I knew I had to put up with to get better- and try to keep drinking fluids.
My family were quite unconcerned at first – since UTIs are well known to happen to many females. However, when the infection recurred after treatment, my mother began to get a little more concerned as she knew about antibiotic resistance and began to wonder if I was dealing with an infection becoming resistant to antibiotics. Had the short courses of treatment killed off some of the bacteria, leaving the more resistant ones behind?
To what extent did your experience change your knowledge about antibiotic resistance?
Before the recurrence of my UTI, I assumed antibiotics killed everything and anything. However, then I realised it wasn’t that simple. After the 3 day course, when the antibiotics did not get rid of the UTI, I began to realise that sometimes antibiotics don’t work. I will now think about other ways of dealing with illness and symptoms before I rush to take an antibiotic in future – such as symptom relief, natural products or herbal medicines. I now appreciate that antibiotic resistance is a much bigger issue than I ever realised, and it can affect anybody.