By Kerry Weiss

Medically reviewed by Shannon Chang, MD

Many women will experience at least one urinary tract infection (UTI) in their lifetime – and men can experience UTIs, too. In fact, UTIs are the reason over 8.1 million people visit their doctor each year. But did you know that UTIs can be a side effect of biologics for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

“While upper respiratory infections are a common side effect of biologics for IBD, most people don’t know that UTIs are another type of infection that can be related to your IBD treatment,” explains Faten N. Aberra, MD, MSCE, associate professor of medicine in the division of gastroenterology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Why the increased risk? Biologics suppress your immune system – increasing your risk of an infection like a UTI.

How to Treat Biologic-Related UTIs

Most women are familiar with the telltale signs of a UTI, like the burning sensation while urinating, and the urge to go more often.

If you’re experiencing these UTI symptoms, be sure to call your doctor. It’s important to work with your care team to determine the underlying cause of the infection – as it may not necessarily be related to your IBD treatment. “The risk of UTI may not be the same for all biologics,” says Dr. Aberra. “However, if someone is having an infection that they didn’t previously have, and they’re noticing that it’s recurring often or they can’t really clear the infection, it’s probably related to immunosuppression.”

UTIs are commonly treated with antibiotics, and symptoms often improve within a few days of treatment. However, if UTIs keep coming back, be sure to see a urologist. “Your primary care physician is the one that will treat the UTI, but if it’s becoming recurring, also be sure to tell your gastroenterologist so they can help figure out what to do with your IBD treatment,” adds Aberra. “You may need to lower your dose or change the interval to give your body a break.”

If you get recurrent UTIs as a side effect of biologics for IBD, one of the best things you can do is give your body a chance to fight the infection. That may mean taking a biologic “drug holiday” when treating a UTI. “If you have an active UTI, talk to your doctor about the possibility of delaying your next biologic dose until the UTI is cleared,” says Aberra.

UTI with biologic treatments, woman pouring water into glass

Take Steps to Prevent UTIs

There’s also plenty you can do to help keep UTIs at bay. Start with these steps:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to help flush bacteria from your urinary tract
  • Relieve your bladder when you feel the urge – don’t hold it in
  • Fully empty your bladder when you use the bathroom – don’t rush
  • Wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria from entering your urinary tract
  • Empty your bladder after sex
  • Ask your doctor if there is a need to investigate for an anatomical reason for the recurring UTIs, especially if you have had prior abdominal or pelvic surgery or a history of kidney stones
  • Ask your doctor if any other medications are increasing your UTI risk
  • Ask your doctor if remedies like cranberry juice or pills, or over-the-counter medications can help

Medical reviewer and Oshi physician-partner Shannon Chang, MD is a gastroenterologist specializing in IBD at NYU Langone Health’s Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center in New York City. Her clinical interests include J-pouches, pregnancy in IBD, and in-patient IBD management. Dr. Chang is an Assistant Professor of Medicine, as well as the Associate Program Director for the Gastroenterology Fellowship. She completed her internal medicine residency at Mount Sinai Hospital and her gastroenterology fellowship at NYU.

Oshi is a tracking tool and content resource. It does not render medical advice or services, and it is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. You should always review this information with your healthcare professionals.