updated 3/16/2004 12:20:24 PM ET 2004-03-16T17:20:24

Most women who contract urinary tract infections don’t know the risk factors or simple preventative strategies, while some sufferers shun medical treatment altogether, two surveys showed.

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Urinary tract infections are the No. 2 reason antibiotics are prescribed, accounting for more than 8 million U.S. doctor visits and about $1.6 billion in health costs each year, says the National Women’s Health Resource Center. It commissioned separate surveys of women and medical professionals.

Yet the surveys found only 13 percent of women aged 18 to 45 knew sexual activity is a primary risk factor for bladder infection, or that simple precautions — proper hygiene, emptying the bladder after intercourse, and plenty of fluids — can prevent it.

Risks to kidneys
Symptoms can include burning on urination, urgency, fever and abdominal pain.

The survey also found 39 percent said they hoped the infection would go away on its own, 23 percent treated it by themselves, and 24 said they were too busy to see a doctor. Seven percent said the symptoms went away.

“Women needlessly compromise their lifestyles when they do not know how to prevent or treat a UTI,” Amy Niles, president of the resource center, said Monday.

The nonprofit center is launching an education campaign, partly funded by Bayer Pharmaceuticals Corp., maker of the antibiotic Cipro, which is prescribed for UTIs.

If the UTI is untreated, there is a risk of kidney infection that could lead to stones or even kidney failure, said Dr. Roger Dmochowski, professor of urology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The survey included 400 women with a past UTI culled from random calls to women last fall. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points, according to research consultants Wirthlin Worldwide.

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