Some people avoid going to the doctor as much as possible, only making an appointment when absolutely necessary. In fact, one thing patients often overlook is the need to see a physician when they have a urinary tract infection, or UTI. While there are rare occasions in which it’s not necessary to see a doctor to treat a UTI, most of the time, it’s essential to assuring the infection clears up completely. But some individuals are at high risk, with potential for extreme complications.
What is a UTI?
The urinary tract is set up to keep bacteria from entering into the body, but it’s not completely failsafe. There are instances in which bacteria can enter the body through the urethra, and this is when infection most often occurs. The urinary tract is made up of the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. Most commonly a UTI stops in the urethra but can travel easily to the bladder. Beyond that, the potential goes even deeper.
Types of urinary tract infections
UTIs can settle into any part of the urinary tract, and that results in multiple types or UTIs.
- Urethritis – This is the most common of UTIs, in which the infection settles in the urethra and causes inflammation but doesn’t reach any other part of the urinary tract. In many cases, this particular form of infection may clear up on its own, though it’s still best to see a physician.
- Cystitis – This occurs when the bacteria reaches the bladder and sets in there for an infection. Again, the bladder will become inflamed (cystitis) with the infection, leading to other symptoms. A short round of antibiotics prescribed in low doses by a doctor will usually clear up the infection.
- Vaginitis – In women, the urethra and vagina are in such close proximity that it’s quite easy and common for an infection to spread from one to the other, causing the vagina to become inflamed, along with the urethra. This, too, recovers with antibiotics.
- Pyelonephritis – When a UTI is left untreated, the bacteria may in fact travel as far as the kidneys, leading to infection here. This is more serious and may require more than a short round of antibiotics to cure, as well as to help restore the kidneys to proper functionality.
Symptoms of a UTI
Depending on where the UTI is located within the urinary tract, symptoms may be mild or severe, and some symptoms may not even appear until the situation is dire. In what is considered simple UTI, or one that has not reached the kidneys, the symptoms are common.
- The need to urinate frequently and urgently, sometimes with little or no results
- Burning, stinging, or pain when urinating that may last after finishing
- Pressure in the lower abdomen or pelvis
- Feeling as though the bladder isn’t empty, even after just urinating
- Cloudy, discolored, bloody, or foul-smelling urine
In the elderly, there are additional symptoms that are more prevalent than these, and because of the dangers in a senior, when symptoms occur that could cause the slightest suspicion of a UTI, they should see a doctor. These are often symptoms that may look more like dementia, such as:
- Confusion and delirium
- Irritability and erratic behavior
- Social withdrawal
- Difficulty with memory
When the condition progresses to a kidney infection, other symptoms arise, and it is usually crucial to get to a doctor as soon as possible, based on the potential complications that can arise. Patients should see a physician immediately with the addition of:
- Pain in the lower back and flanks, especially if it’s spreading up the back
- Extreme, unbearable pain in the lower abdomen
- High fever
Who is at high risk of UTIs?
While anyone can develop a UTI, there are some people more prone to it, whether it’s a genetic factor or a lifestyle. Some of the high-risk situations include:
- Being female. Due to the anatomy of a female – the proximity of the urethra to the vagina and the anus, as well as the fact that the urethra is much shorter than a man’s, it’s much easier for bacteria to get into the urinary tract.
- Menopause. Again, women are at higher risk because, after menopause, the changes in hormonal levels create physical situations that are more conducive to bacterial breeding.
- Sexual activity. Bacteria from lack of cleanliness, as well as from the anus, can easily be transferred to the urethral opening during sex, leading to a greater chance of contamination.
- Being Diabetic. Changes to the immune system in diabetes, as well as the body’s use of urine to expel excess sugar from the bloodstream, can lead to a toxic environment in the bladder where bacteria thrive.
- Having prostate problems. An enlarged prostate can make it difficult to empty the bladder due to pressing on and narrowing of the urethra. Stagnant urine, or residual urine, in anyone produces an environment in which bacteria can run rampant.
- Being a baby. Because wet diapers that aren’t changed frequently can cause bacteria to build up, babies are more susceptible to UTIs. This is even more likely in children born with congenital problems of the urinary tract.
- Being elderly. Seniors often have reduced sensation, compromised immune systems, or medication that can make them more susceptible to UTIs, as well as aid in them suffering from more severe infections.