Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are more than simply a nuisance in older adults, they can eventually lead to major health consequences. A UTI, if left untreated, can cause acute or chronic kidney infections, causing lasting damage to these essential organs and even kidney failure. UTIs are also a primary cause of sepsis, a severe and sometimes fatal inflammatory reaction to an infection. A majority of infections occur in the bladder and urethra. Read on to learn how to identify symptoms of UTIs in your loved ones and what to do.
Why Older Adults are Prone to UTIs
Older adults are more vulnerable for a variety of reasons. They have an increased susceptibility to infections as a result of a weakening immune system. These conditions render older adults more vulnerable to UTIs:
- Kidney stones
- Surgery in an area near the bladder
- Enlarged prostate
- Urinary incontinence
- Bowel incontinence
- Use of a urinary catheter
- Urine retention
Common UTI Symptoms
Here are some common UTI symptoms:
- Night sweats, shaking, or chills
- Low-grade fever
- Feelings of pressure in the lower abdomen
- Pain or burning during urination
- Frequent or urgent need to urinate
- Strong or foul-smelling urine
- Bloody urine
- Urine that looks cloudy or dark
Causes of UTIs
An infection of the urinary tract occurs when bacteria enter through the urethra and proliferate in the bladder. Even though the urinary system is designed to keep out bacteria, sometimes it fails. If that happens, bacteria can grow and become a full-blown infection in the urinary tract.
Most UTIs affect women and their bladders and urethra.
- Bladder Infection: Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacterium found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract that can cause urinary tract infections. Due to the short distance between the urethra and the anus and the urethral opening to the bladder, women are at risk of bladder infections.
- Urethra Infection: When bacteria from the GI tract spread from the anus to the urethra.
How to Prevent UTIs
The following lifestyle and personal hygiene improvements can lower one’s chance of having a urinary tract infection greatly:
- Maintain a clean and dry genital region.
- Consume lots of fluids.
- Wear breathable cotton underwear and change them at least once a day if incontinence is not an issue.
- Do not douche or use any other type of feminine hygiene product.
- Caffeine and alcohol, which irritate the bladder, should be limited.
- Unless the individual has a personal or family history of kidney stones, drink cranberry juice or take cranberry pills.
- Change dirty incontinence briefs as soon as possible and on a regular basis.
Treatment of UTIs
Urinary tract infections are usually treated with antibiotics as a first line of defense. The type of antibiotic prescribed and the duration you need to be on it would depend on your health condition and the bacteria found in your urine sample. Symptoms of a UTI usually clear up after a few days of treatment. However, antibiotics may need to be taken for a week or more. Take the entire course of antibiotics as prescribed. In addition to an antibiotic, your doctor may give you a pain medication that relieves burning when you urinate by numbing your bladder and urethra. Usually, however, the burning stops after you start taking the medication.