Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are an aggravation at any age, but they’re most common in older women. For senior women, UTIs can cause serious health problems and may not come with the usual symptoms.
At Alpenglow Gynecology, we help patients of all ages in Littleton, Colorado, treat the uncomfortable symptoms associated with UTIs. Rickie Guida, WHNP-BC and our entire care team are committed to helping older women understand and treat UTIs before they cause lasting damage. We offer a comprehensive line of women’s health services to help you feel your best at every age.
What is a urinary tract infection?
A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is the condition that results when an infection occurs in any part of your urinary system. Although they’re frequently referred to as bladder infections, UTIs can also occur in other parts of the urinary system, like the kidneys or urethra.
General symptoms of a UTI include:
- Frequent urination
- Burning sensation while urinating
- Cloudy, dark, or bloody urine
- Pain or pressure in the lower abdomen
- Fever, nausea, or vomiting
- Urine with a strange or strong odor
- Feeling like you still need to go after urinating
It’s important to seek care soon if you suspect you might have a UTI. Although most patients respond well to early treatment, untreated UTIs can cause significant health complications, including kidney infections, permanent damage to your kidneys, and sepsis.
Why do older women get recurrent UTIs?
Urinary tract infections are most common in older women for two reasons. First, women are generally more likely to get a UTI because of the physical structure of their urinary tract. The female anatomy includes a shorter urethra than men. This means bacteria only needs to travel a short distance to reach deeper into the urinary tract. It is also easier for bacteria from the rectum or from intercourse to travel to the vagina and urethra.
Second, as women’s bodies go through menopause, the major hormonal shifts lead to changes in the urinary tract. Post-menopausal women may not have the right pH balance in their vagina. When your system is out of balance, it makes you more susceptible to infections in your urinary tract.
Are UTIs the same in older women as younger women?
Although women can get UTIs at any age, they can affect older women differently. UTI symptoms can be different or more severe in older women. Sometimes older women can have a UTI and be asymptomatic.
In addition to the general symptoms listed above, older women should be aware of these additional symptoms:
- Delirium or hallucination
- Confusion or slow thinking
- Agitation and restlessness
- Social withdrawal
Older women are also more likely to have an underlying medical condition that’s triggering their recurrent UTIs or causing UTI-like symptoms. For example, pelvic organ prolapse can cause symptoms that are very similar to UTIs, such as a frequent urge to urinate or pain and pressure in the lower abdomen.
Since these conditions can’t be treated with the antibiotics often prescribed for UTIs, it’s important to have a comprehensive medical exam. At Alpenglow Gynecology, we rule out underlying causes or conditions that may be causing your UTI symptoms.
What can I do to prevent recurrent UTIs?
The majority of UTIs, about 90%, are caused by E. coli, a bacteria that naturally occurs in your intestines where it’s helpful. When this bacteria comes in contact with your urinary tract system, however, it can be harmful and lead to a UTI.
For most people, simple hygiene and lifestyle changes can help prevent recurrent UTIs. To help stop a UTI before it starts, try implementing these tips:
- Avoid spreading E. coli by washing your genitals with warm water and mild soap before and after sex.
- Drink plenty of fluids to flush out any wandering bacteria from the urinary system.
- Be sure to urinate after having sex to keep bacteria from lingering in the urethra.
- When you feel the urge to urinate, go — postponing urination increases your risk of developing a UTI.
- Be sure to wipe from front to back to avoid spreading E. coli to the vagina.
Ready to learn more about UTIs and how they affect older women? Experiencing symptoms of a UTI? Contact our Littleton office or book an appointment online now and the help you need!