Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) are the second most common infection type, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Caused by bacteria in the urethra, UTIs occur more often in women due to the close proximity of the urethra to the anus, where bacteria proliferates. More than 50% of all women will suffer from at least one UTI in her lifetime.
Classic Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections
Symptoms of a UTI are fairly clear-cut for younger women. A burning sensation while urinating is usually the first hint of a urinary tract infection. Cloudy urine or urine containing traces of blood, the constant feeling of needing to empty the bladder, and cramping in the lower abdomen are sure signs of a UTI. In men, these symptoms are often joined by a feeling of fullness in the rectum. Thankfully, treatment of urinary tract infections is simple and effective: a round of antibiotics usually alleviates uncomfortable symptoms within a day or two and cures the infection by the end of the treatment.
Urinary Tract Infection in the Elderly: Key Symptoms are No Symptoms
Unfortunately, symptoms of UTI in the elderly are not as cut and dry as for younger people. In fact, a urinary tract infection in elderly men and women often does not produce any of the symptoms a younger person might experience, and therefore can be tricky to diagnose. If left untreated, a UTI can lead to kidney damage and even sepsis – a life-threatening infection of the blood. Additionally, elderly men and women often have conditions that increase their risk factor for developing UTIs. Those who require a urethra or bladder catheter are at considerably higher risk. Diabetics, those who are largely immobile, and those who have had kidney stones are also prime candidates for urinary tract infections.
The best indication of a UTI in the elderly is a sudden change in behavior. This might include a sudden loss of energy or appetite, a sudden onset of confusion, or the inability to do simple tasks such as getting dressed or making breakfast whereas these things were no problem the day before. A urinary tract infection should be ruled out before other problems are considered.
Another common sign of urinary tract infection in the elderly is sudden urinary incontinence, the inability to hold one’s urine. Any of these signs of UTI should be addressed by a physician; likewise, any of these signs accompanied by a fever could signal sepsis and should be considered an emergency.
Diagnosing and Preventing UTI
Diagnosis of a UTI is a simple matter; a urinalysis will identify the presence of infection in a matter of minutes. In addition to antibiotics, the physician will order the patient to drink plenty of fluids, including cranberry juice, to help flush the bacteria from the body. Cranberry juice makes urine less appealing to bacteria and can be used as a preventative measure – either consumed in drinkable form or as tablets.
Other preventative measures for urinary tract infections in the elderly are simple lifestyle habits that contribute to overall health. Older adults should drink at least 64 ounces of water every day and avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine. Urinating as soon as the urge arises helps avoid the harboring of bacteria in the urethra. Urinating after intercourse is also extremely important in stemming bacterial growth. If possible, the elderly should take showers instead of baths, and women should avoid using products such as powders and douches in the genital area. Women should always wipe from front to back to keep bacteria from entering the urinary tract.
Vigilance is Crucial
Knowing that a urinary tract infection in the elderly can be symptom-free is the first step in avoiding serious complications from untreated UTIs. Any time a change in behavior is noted in an elderly patient, a urinalysis should be performed to rule out a urinary tract infection.