23 Aug Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) in the Elderly
A UTI is an infection in the urinary tract. Infections are caused by microbes which are organisms too small to be seen without a microscope. This includes fungi, viruses, and bacteria–the most common cause of a UTI.
Normally, bacteria that enter the urinary tract flush through the body before they cause symptoms. However, sometimes bacteria overcome the body’s natural defenses and cause infection. UTIs include those of the urethra (urethritis), and bladder (cystitis). A UTI may also spread to the kidneys (pyelonephritis).
According to the National Institutes of Health, UTIs are one of the most common infection in older adults with women more prone to developing them than men. As bladder muscles weaken in elderly women, it becomes more difficult to fully empty the bladder. This causes urine to stay in the bladder which makes an infection more likely. Moreover, estrogen deficiency in older women also allows bacteria to grow more easily and cause infections. In men, an enlarged prostate can lead to a UTI.
Additionally, other reasons all older adults get infections include having a urinary catheter; a history of UTIs; or having another medical condition, such as dementia, stroke, or diabetes. Constipation, being over weight, low amount of physical activity, smoking, medications, alcohol, diet, and caffeine use can all affect bladder health.
Symptoms of a UTI may include:
- Cloudy, bloody, or foul-smelling urine;
- Pain or burning during urination;
- Strong and frequent need to urinate, even right after emptying the bladder;
- A mild fever below 101°F in some people.
If a UTI spreads to the kidneys, symptoms may include:
- Chills and shaking;
- Night sweats;
- Feeling tired or generally ill;
- Fever above 101°F;
- Pain in the side, back, or groin;
- Flushed, warm, or reddened skin;
- Mental changes or confusion;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Very bad abdominal pain in some people.
It is important to note: In some elderly people, mental changes and confusion may be the only signs of a UTI. In addition, older adults with a UTI are more likely to be tired, shaky, weak, and have muscle aches and/or abdominal pain.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Most UTI’s can be diagnosed and treated fairly quickly with antibiotics. However, if not treated, a UTI may lead to serious lie-threatening complications especially for older adults who may be in frail health. This includes sepsis which can lead to organ failure and death.
UTI’s are diagnosed through a urine sample test. For recurrent infections a health provider may order additional tests including: cystoscopy which enables a physician to look inside the urethra and bladder; and diagnostic tests of the urinary track including: ultrasound; CT scans; and, MRI.
The best way to avoid a UTI is to drink plenty of water throughout the day. This helps dilute urine and causes you to urinate more frequently–allowing bacteria to be flushed from the body.
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