Bladder health: urinary tract infections

Siski Green / 14 April 2015

It’s not something most people want to talk about but it can be excruciatingly painful and embarrassing. Find out what causes UTIs and how to avoid and treat them.



What is a UTI (urinary tract infection)?

A urinary tract infection is caused by bacteria. While there are always bacteria in your body, if harmful ones are allowed to multiply it can cause unpleasant symptoms. A UTI is caused when bacteria in the bladder or kidney multiply, potentially leading to kidney infection.

Why are older people likely to develop a UTI?

As you age your immune system is not as robust as it was which makes you more prone to bacterial infections such as UTIs. There’s also the issue of your bladder. Younger people have stronger muscles which allow them to completely empty their bladder each time they go, while older people, especially men, may have weaker bladder muscles. This can mean that they’re not able to empty their bladder, leaving urine behind that then allows the bacteria to flourish.  
Some people are more likely to get a UTI than others – for example, those with diabetes, bowel incontinence, enlarged prostate, who are bed-ridden or who have kidney stones.

What symptoms should I look out for?

Burning sensation while peeing, cloudy urine or blood in it (it may also smell different or foul), abdominal pain and/or incontinence. For younger adults a raised body temperature is also a symptom, although this is less common in elderly patients.

Is there a way to prevent a UTI?

Drinking plenty of liquid throughout the day and going to the toilet regularly are essential, but you can also try drinking cranberry juice which has been shown to reduce risk of UTIs. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, both of which can irritate the bladder. It’s also important to change underwear regularly, wearing cotton preferably, and wipe from front to back (for women) and wash often taking extra care to clean the genital area.

How can I get myself checked for it?

If you suspect you have a UTI see your GP immediately. You’ll have your urine tested for blood as well as other signs of infection. Your sample may be sent for further lab tests to ascertain whether there are harmful bacteria present and what kind of antibiotic to put you on.

Anything else I should know?

If the person with a UTI has dementia they may experience a worsened mental state as a result of the UTI. This is called delirium and could include confusion, hallucinations, drowsiness or simply be in a less responsive state. They may even experience delirium as a result of the UTI without showing other symptoms.

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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.