Background: Although uncomplicated urinary tract infections (UTIs) are often self-limiting, most patients will be prescribed antibiotic treatment. We assessed whether treatment with ibuprofen was non-inferior to pivmecillinam in achieving symptomatic resolution by day 4, with a non-inferiority margin of 10%.
Methods and findings: This was a randomized, controlled, double-blind non-inferiority trial. We recruited patients from 16 sites in a general practice setting in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Non-pregnant women aged 18-60 years presenting with symptoms of uncomplicated UTI were screened for eligibility from 11 April 2013 to 22 April 2016. Patients with informed consent were randomized (1:1 ratio) to treatment with either 600 mg ibuprofen or 200 mg pivmecillinam 3 times a day for 3 days. The patient, treating physician, and study personnel were blinded to treatment allocation. The primary outcome was the proportion of patients who felt cured by day 4, as assessed from a patient diary. Secondary outcomes included the proportion of patients in need of secondary treatment with antibiotics and cases of pyelonephritis. A total of 383 women were randomly assigned to treatment with either ibuprofen (n = 194, 181 analyzed) or pivmecillinam (n = 189, 178 analyzed). By day 4, 38.7% of the patients in the ibuprofen group felt cured versus 73.6% in the pivmecillinam group. The adjusted risk difference with 90% confidence interval was 35% (27% to 43%) in favor of pivmecillinam, which crossed the prespecified non-inferiority margin. Secondary endpoints were generally in favor of pivmecillinam. After 4 weeks' follow-up, 53% of patients in the ibuprofen group recovered without antibiotic treatment. Seven cases of pyelonephritis occurred, all in the ibuprofen group, giving a number needed to harm of 26 (95% CI 13 to 103). Five of these patients were hospitalized and classified as having serious adverse events; 2 recovered as outpatients. A limitation of the study was the extensive list of exclusion criteria, eliminating almost half of the patients screened. We did not register symptoms in the screening process; hence, we do not know the symptom burden for those who declined to participate. This might make our results less generalizable.
Conclusions: Ibuprofen was inferior to pivmecillinam for treating uncomplicated UTIs. More than half of the women in the ibuprofen group recovered without antibiotics. However, pyelonephritis occurred in 7 out of 181 women using ibuprofen. Until we can identify those women who will develop complications, we cannot recommend ibuprofen alone as initial treatment to women with uncomplicated UTIs.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01849926 EU Clinical Trials Register (EU-CTR), EudraCT Number 2012-002776-14.