URINARY TRACT INFECTION | CAUSES AND TREATMENTS
Learn about why urinary tract infections happen and what you can do to prevent and treat them.
Urinary Tract Infection
A Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) is as uncomfortable as it sounds. Symptoms often include painful urination, frequent trips to the bathroom, and a feeling of urgency. Other symptoms may include lower abdominal or pelvic pain and pressure, blood in the urine, milky, cloudy, or pink/red urine, fever, and strong smelling urine. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor.
There are several types of UTIs:
- Cystitis. This is an inflammation of the bladder and the most common UTI. Almost always, it occurs in women. The infection typically affects only the surface of the bladder and is brief & acute.
- Urethritis. As the name suggests, urethritis is an inflammation of the urethra. Though commonly contracted through sexual intercourse with partners infected with sexually transmitted infections, urethritis may also result from trauma to the area or from the catheterization process.
- Pyelonephritis. Occasionally, bacteria will spread to the kidney from the bloodstream. Symptoms include a fever, pain in the back or side below the ribs, nausea, or vomiting. Kidney infections are more serious and less common than bladder infections.
Not surprisingly, more than 4 million doctor office visits per year in the US are for UTI. While most urinary tract infections affect women (50%), about 12% of men will also have a UTI during their lifetime. If you experience three or more UTIs within a year, it is known as a recurrent UTI and should be addressed with your physician immediately.
Urinary Tract Infections typically arise from bacteria that normally live in the colon and rectum. Once bacteria are introduced into the urethra, they multiply and travel up to the bladder. Urine flow from the bladder usually washes bacteria out of the body.
However, because women have a shorter urethra than men, bacteria can reach the bladder more easily and settle into the bladder wall. This explains why women are more susceptible to UTIs than men.
Several factors can contribute to the risk of UTI.
- Sexual intercourse
- Use of contraceptive spermicide
- Immune suppression
- Low levels of estrogen
The last two in the list require a little more explanation. Naturally occurring estrogen helps prevent recurrent UTI in women. After menopause, estrogen levels drop along with the number of vaginal lactobacilli, the “good bacteria” which prevent growth of intestinal bacteria in the vagina. This makes postmenopausal women especially susceptible to UTI.
Catheters are associated with colonization of bacteria and increased risks of clinical infection. Using the techniques described here can help keep catheters clean and prevent recurrent UTI. While single-use of sterile catheters reduces the risks, it does not prevent UTI from occurring. It is therefore important to maintain proper care and use of catheters at all times while remaining alert to symptoms of UTI.
Prevention is the best treatment for UTIs:
- Bathroom Behavior. Periodically emptying the bladder by trying to urinate every two to three hours may help to prevent UTIs.
- Diet. The use of cranberry products seems to decrease the ability of bacteria to adhere to the lining of the urethra and bladder. As cranberry juice can have a high amount of sugar, cranberry extract can be taken in capsule or pill form instead. Increasing water intake by one or two glasses per day may help limit the length of time that you have symptoms and reduce the infections.
- Hygiene. Proper hygiene in caring for the urethral area is another way to limit the amount or type of bacteria that can be drawn into the urethra. This is especially true in people who have decreased sensation in the perineal region such as those with MS or who experience any amount of fecal incontinence. Using soap & water or commercially available cleansing wipes several times per day & frequent changing of incontinence pads as they become wet can minimize the amount of bacteria in the urethral area. Women should always wipe from the front of the vagina to the back of the anus after urination or a bowel movement and wear cotton underwear. It is also reported that wearing thong undergarments may increase one's risk of developing an infection.
- Sexual Activity. Insuring proper lubrication to the vagina and voiding before and after intercourse are tactics to help prevent infection. Using diaphragms and spermicidal jelly and/or foam may increase the risk of infection, so it is important to evaluate what type of birth control you use. Some physicians encourage women who have a history of recurrent infections to take an prophylactic antibiotic after intercourse, as it reduces risk of recurrent UTI by about 85%. Restricting the number of sexual partners can lower the risk of recurrent UTIs.
- Vaginal Estrogen. Estrogen reduces risk of recurrent UTI by repopulating the normal vaginal lactobacilli that keep bacteria from the rectum from multiplying and causing a bladder infection. Forms of vaginal estrogen are available at very low dosages that have minimal systemic absorption. Vaginal estrogen is a medication that needs to be prescribed by your doctor.
- Catheter Use. Proper cleansing and storage of catheters is important in one who intermittently catheterizes, as the catheter can be a vehicle to introduce infection. A “closed system” catheter provides a reliable means of sterile IC because the introducer tip is surrounded by a urine collection bag and never exposed to bacteria typically found at the urethral opening.
Depending on the severity of infection, your doctor may prescribe an oral antibiotic. A simple UTI can be treated with a three-day course of antibiotics. Length of an antibiotic treatment depends on the severity of the infection as well as the type of antibiotic prescribed.
As with most prescriptions, you should complete the full course of medication prescribed by your doctor. You may supplement pain relief by taking aspirin, Tylenol, or non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications.
URINARY TRACT INFECTIONS IN THE ELDERLY
Because the elderly often do not experience or report obvious symptoms that younger people have, urinary tract infections can be easily overlooked. Confusion, feelings of general discomfort, disorientation, fatigue, weakness, behavior changes, falling, or a new, acute incontinence are reported as common complaints. Because these symptoms are so general, this often results in a delaying treatment, inviting the complication of sepsis to occur.
UTIs can cause a change in behavior in older people and people with dementia. Masquerading as confusion, agitation, or withdrawal, UTI may actually be the cause of behavioral shifts. The person may not be able to communicate how they feel, therefore it is very important to be familiar with the symptoms of UTI and seek medical help to enable appropriate treatment.
It is also important to be aware that any infection could speed up the progression of dementia and so all infections should be quickly identified and treated.
In some cases, UTIs can cause a significant and distressing change in someone's behavior. Usually developing over a day or two, when someone’s mental state changes drastically it is commonly referred to as acute confusion state or delirium.
If someone you know exhibits agitation or restlessness, increased difficulty with concentrating, hallucinations or delusions, or becoming unusually sleepy or withdrawn they may be dealing with delirium. If the delirium is due to an UTI, treatment with an appropriate course of antibiotics may help to alleviate the symptoms. Regardless of what has triggered the delirium, seek medical immediately.