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Today's Medicine

UTI Basics: Urinary Tract Infections Are Common but Highly Treatable – if You Act Quickly

Published: March 10, 2022

If you haven’t had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you likely know someone who has. The term UTI applies to an infection or inflammation of the urethra, bladder or kidneys. It’s the result of bacteria from outside the body entering the urinary tract.

UTIs are extremely common, with over 8 million doctor’s visits annually for the condition. They’re also often easily treated with antibiotics. Still, they can cause serious complications – resulting in hospitalization and even death – and they can be difficult to recognize in children and older adults.

 

UTI Risk Factors

Women are more prone to UTIs because their urethras are shorter and closer to the rectum – factors that can make it easier for bacteria to infect the urinary tract. Young children and older adults are also more at risk for UTIs.

Other risk factors for a UTI are:

  • A previous UTI
  • Blockages in the urinary tract, such as kidney stones or an enlarged prostate
  • Catheter use
  • Changes to the urinary tract as a result of menopause
  • Diseases that suppress the immune system, such as diabetes
  • Poor restroom and hygiene habits
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexual activity
  • Structural problems in the urinary tract (for example, an enlarged prostate)
  • Using some methods of birth control – diaphragms, unlubricated condoms or spermicides

 

UTI Symptoms at All Ages

Symptoms of a bladder infection can include:

  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Feeling the need to urinate despite having an empty bladder
  • Frequent urination
  • Pain or burning while urinating
  • Pressure or cramping in the groin or lower abdomen
  • Urine with a strong odor

Symptoms of a kidney infection can include:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Lower back pain or pain in the side of the back
  • Nausea or vomiting

Symptoms of a urethra infection can include:

  • Burning during urination
  • Unusual discharge

 

When To Get Help

If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of a UTI, don’t hesitate to contact your primary care provider. The same goes for unusual or concerning symptoms in children or adults who may have trouble communicating their symptoms.

UTIs are typically identified by their symptoms, a physical exam and sometimes a urine test. UTIs are among the most common infections, and they’re usually treatable with antibiotics.

Left untreated, a UTI can increase the risk of future similar infections. UTIs can be especially dangerous if they spread to the kidneys, as they can lead to permanent kidney damage or sepsis – a life-threatening condition resulting from your body’s response to the infection.

 

UTIs in Older Adults

Older adults may be more at risk for UTIs because of many of the factors listed above: For example, they may have gone through menopause, have an enlarged prostate, have conditions like diabetes that suppress the immune system, or use a catheter or adult diapers.

Meanwhile, UTIs can be especially dangerous for people in this age group because they may be overlooked or mistaken for other conditions. Classic UTI symptoms like frequent urination or a burning feeling while urinating aren’t always present or as intense with older adults. Further, if they have cognitive issues, they may have difficulty communicating their symptoms to others.

Symptoms of a UTI in an older adult can include:

  • Change in appetite
  • Falls
  • New issues with incontinence
  • Increased agitation, confusion or withdrawal in people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
  • Lethargy

 

Prevention

Some simple steps can help prevent UTIs. They include:

  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Minimizing the use of douches, sprays or powders in the genital area
  • Taking showers instead of baths
  • Teaching girls when potty training to wipe front to back
  • Urinating after sexual activity
  • Using birth control methods other than diaphragms, unlubricated condoms or spermicides

 

Be Proactive With Your Health

If you or a loved one are experiencing UTI symptoms or any unusual or concerning symptoms, don’t hesitate to contact your health care team. Like with many conditions, identifying and treating UTIs early is the best way to maintain your overall health.

More Resources

About the Author

Kylee Stanley, MD, an internal medicine physician with Methodist Physicians Clinic, doesn’t remember wanting to be anything other than a doctor. She was inspired by all the providers who cared for her while she battled health challenges as a child.

“When I was little, I thought I wanted to be a pediatric gastroenterologist, which is very specific for a kid,” she said with a laugh. “But as I went through medical school, I realized I had more of a passion for adult care.”

As an internist, Dr. Stanley cares for adults of all ages, but she especially treasures the relationships she builds with her geriatric patients. To her, The Meaning of Care is about creating “family-like relationships.”

“It’s about making my patients feel comfortable and safe.”

See more articles from Kylee Stanley, MD
Dr. Kylee Stanley