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The difference between early symptoms of a UTI and signs that it has gotten out of control are easy to recognize, since the more severe symptoms can leave a patient incapable of functioning normally.

Most people recognize the initial symptoms of a urinary tract infection, or UTI, and under normal circumstances, they pay a visit to their physician for treatment. It doesn’t take much to clear up a simple UTI, just a short round of antibiotics. Once this is done, the symptoms go away, and life returns to normal. However, there are occasions when it’s not that easy. Whether a patient doesn’t notice the symptoms, ignores them, tries to self-medicate without success, or simply is resistant to treatment, a UTI can get out of control.

What are the signs that a patient with a UTI needs to see a doctor immediately?

Early stages of a UTI

When a UTI first develops, it’s pretty easy to notice the symptoms. They are fairly regular and tend to affect anyone who develops the infection, which usually starts in the urethra and possibly the bladder. When the infection first takes hold, the nine most common symptoms are:

  • The sudden and urgent need to urinate
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Inability to, or feeling as if unable to, empty the bladder
  • Burning and pain when urinating, sometimes lingering when finished urinating
  • Attempting to urinate with no results
  • Pressure and pain in the pelvis, lower abdomen, and back
  • Thick or cloudy urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Unusual and foul smell in the urine

When seeing a doctor, these less severe symptoms easily clear up with a short round of antibiotics that only last a few days, in most cases. If the infection is fungal, an antifungal medication may be prescribed. In addition, over the counter medications can help ease pain related to the infection.

Progression of a UTI and kidney infections

As an untreated urinary tract infection progresses, symptoms may worsen, and additional symptoms may appear. This is especially true in the elderly, who may not notice the more subtle symptoms due to lack of sensation, and they may not be obvious to someone else. If a senior has a progressively worsening UTI, others will likely see behavioral changes that mirror the actions of a person with dementia, such as:

  • Increased irritability
  • Confusion and memory problems
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium

Of course, there are other symptoms that the infection is getting worse that can appear in people of any age. Some of these are;

  • Low to mid-grade fever
  • Fatigue
  • Pain spreading or worsening
  • A general feeling of unwellness

When the infection reaches the kidneys, the symptoms are clearly indicative that it’s time to make a trip to the doctor or even to the hospital, since the severity of these symptoms and the underlying meaning are both dangerous.

Symptoms of a kidney infection include:

  • Pain spreading from the lower to mid back (around and above the kidneys), as well as the flanks
  • High fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Infections in other parts of the body, including potentially swollen or irritated lymph nodes

These symptoms could be a sign that complications are arising, and addressing those can, in some cases, mean life or death.

Urinary tract infection: Complications and sepsis

The kidneys are meant to filter out the waste from the body, as well as excess fluid, all of which is delivered to the bladder in the form of urine. When the kidneys are infected, the irritation and inflammation make it difficult for them to function properly. This can lead to some of that waste being left in the bloodstream or even returning to the blood. This is a complication known as septicemia, which can lead to the nausea and vomiting related to kidney infections, as well as fever and difficulty functioning.

When the UTI involves a kidney infection, patients also run the risk of developing sepsis. Not only can the waste that should be expelled be returned to the bloodstream; additionally, the bacteria causing the infection can be spread in this manner. Sepsis is the presence of all these harmful microorganisms that inhabit the blood and sometimes other bodily tissues, as well as the way the body reacts to this “poison”. Sepsis damages various organs in the body.

If not treated immediately and aggressively, patients could suffer septic shock. In this case, the sepsis leads to a dangerously low blood pressure, as well as unusual functionality of cell metabolism, or the ability of cells to respirate and feed for continued growth. This can cause organ failure.

Who should see a doctor right away for a UTI?

While it’s obvious that those whose UTIs are out of control need immediate medical attention, it’s recommended that anyone experiencing symptoms of a UTI speak to their physician. There are several reasons this is ideal.

  • Caught early, a UTI is easily treated and cured, so there are no complications. A UTI never needs to be fatal.
  • While there is much that can be done as a home remedy for symptoms of UTIs, there is no way aside from prescribed medication to actually cure the infection, which can lead to chronic issues.
  • The symptoms of UTIs can also pertain to other ailments, including sexually transmitted infections. Like UTIs, if these are discovered early, they are far easier to treat, and many are now curable. However, if left unchecked, treatment becomes difficult or even impossible.
  • Not all bacteria responds to all antibiotics. It’s important to get a culture of the bacteria for the physician to determine what strain of bacteria has developed the infection so that the correct antibiotics can be prescribed.

Conclusion

The difference between early symptoms of a UTI and signs that it has gotten out of control are easy to recognize, since the more severe symptoms can leave a patient incapable of functioning normally. When this happens, it’s essential to seek immediate medical attention. However, to truly be healthy and assure that the best care is taken, it makes sense to see a doctor at the first sign of an infection. In addition, it’s vital to watch seniors for changes in mood and behavior that could signal a UTI has taken hold.

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