Usually, when you have symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI), the process is simple: You go to the doctor, pee into a cup, and get a prescription for antibiotics. But sometimes, UTIs are more complicated. Not all of them show up in standard urine cultures, and when they aren't caught, they can linger for weeks, months, or even years.
"Chronic UTIs are not uncommon and can last for months at times," Chirag Shah, MD, emergency medicine physician and co-founder of Accesa Labs, tells Bustle. "UTIs can be missed on standard tests because urine lab tests are not 100 percent accurate. Also, a lab test can come back negative if the right test is not performed."
"Most people, usually women, struggle to ever achieve a proper diagnosis once they fail standard UTI dipstick and culture tests designed for acute UTI," Andrea Sherwin, Chronic UTI Australia spokesperson, tells Bustle. "A common outcome for someone with a chronic UTI is, after many months or even years of symptoms, to be misdiagnosed with an incurable urinary syndrome like interstitial cystitis, painful bladder syndrome, and overactive bladder syndrome."
Many people with chronic UTIs endure "months, and more often years, of not being taken seriously by doctors and have given up on receiving any real help at all from the medical profession," says Sherwin. "Symptoms vary between individuals, but in general, these women live with debilitating bladder and pelvic pain and burning and constant urinary frequency and urgency. If left untreated, which is sadly usually the case, chronic UTI ruins lives, relationships, self-conﬁdence, and the ability to work, be sexually intimate, and manage families."
Chronic UTIs have been very poorly understood and largely ignored up to the present, but fortunately, we're coming out of the dark ages. Here are some things we know about chronic UTIs so far, according to experts.