What You Should Know About UTIs

If you’ve ever experienced a urinary tract infection (UTI), you probably won’t soon forget it. The pain and discomfort are like nothing you’ve felt before, and the frequent trips to the bathroom are bothersome, to say the least.

A UTI is a bacterial infection in the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters (tubes leading from the kidneys to the bladder), bladder, and urethra (tube carrying urine from the bladder to the outside of the body). While an infection anywhere in this system constitutes a UTI, they are most commonly found in the urethra and bladder.

When it comes to UTIs, the sooner you catch them, the better. Because the bacteria enters through the urethra and travels up through the urinary tract, treating the infection before it reaches the bladder, or especially kidneys, is important.

Symptoms

The most common symptom of a UTI is the strong and frequent urge to urinate, even if the bladder is empty. Other symptoms include:

  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Cloudy or bloody urine
  • Passing frequent, small amounts of urine
  • Urine with a strong odor

Any one of these symptoms can be an indicator of a UTI and having several together is a sure sign to contact a doctor.

That may be easy if it’s your body, but if you are a caregiver, how do you know what to look for to prevent or treat this type of infection? For some professional pointers, I reached out to Stacie Abraham, RN, BC, Geriatric Nurse Navigator at Hurley Medical Center.  

In addition to the above listed symptoms, Abraham also added a low-grade fever and complaints of pelvic pain may be present. “One thing to keep in mind is not everyone will show every symptom listed,” she states. “Elderly people often do not get fevers until they are really, really sick. Sometimes when an older person is septic, they may actually have a low body temperature. If caring for an older adult, one cardinal sign to watch for is a sudden change in their behavior or function.  This is often a big indication of infection. You know the person you are caring for; if something just does not seem right to you, then it probably isn’t.”

Who’s at risk?

Though UTIs can affect all ages and both sexes, some groups are at a higher risk. Because a female urethra is shorter and closer to the anus, women are at a much higher risk, explains Abraham. Other risk factors include:

  • Diabetes
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Men with enlarged prostate
  • Individuals with urinary catheters
  • Urinary tract abnormalities
  • Presence of kidney stones
  • Incontinence

If you are a caregiver to an individual with any of these risk factors, Abraham suggests monitoring for changes in urine color and odor, as well as urination pattern and any complaints of pain associated with urination. Any changes should be reported to the doctor as soon as you notice the change. “Untreated UTI’s could lead to kidney damage, cause recurrent infections or lead up to a serious infection called sepsis,” she explains. “In some cases, sepsis can be life threatening.”

Treatment

Treatment for a UTI can vary based on the frequency of infections, type of bacteria, and other health factors. Oral antibiotics are usually prescribed based on the results of the urinalysis, but the type of drug and duration of therapy can vary from patient to patient. For more severe infections, intravenous antibiotics may be required. “However,” states Abraham, “do not be alarmed if your doctor does not prescribe an antibiotic at all. Your doctor will discuss with you the best options for your condition.”

Prevention

Prevention is a vital part of keeping your loved one healthy and free of infection. Because they may not always complain of symptoms, it’s important to be proactive and aware of any changes in their condition and report them to a health care professional right away. Additionally, follow these UTI prevention tips:

  • Drink plenty of water to flush away bacteria
  • Avoid perfume soaps and bubble baths
  • Wear cotton underwear
  • Clean genital area from front to back
  • Urinate after sexual activity

For those caring for an individual who is incontinent of bowel or bladder, Abraham suggested a toileting routine to help decrease incontinent episodes. She also stressed the importance of promptly and properly cleaning your loved one after any incontinence. “If you are noticing frequent urination in small amounts, you should contact a doctor right away,” she says. “Your loved one may be retaining urine, which could lead to a UTI or even kidney damage.”

While cranberry juice and cranberry supplements are popular over-the-counter remedies for UTIs, Abraham warns against going this route. Although usually harmless, those with kidney stones are advised against this method of treatment. As with any medication, it is always best to discuss any supplements with your physician.

Kudos Magazine Volume 7.2 By Jennifer Boice

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