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Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are common in older adults. Roughly 10% of women over 65 will experience one, and an estimated 30% of women aged 85 and older will develop at least one. UTIs occur when E. coli or other bacteria enter the urinary tract. The urinary tract contains the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body), bladder (the organ that stores urine), kidney (the organ that filters blood and produces urine), and ureters (tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder).
Bacteria can enter the urinary system in a variety of ways. While it may not be possible to fully prevent bacterial growth, you can take steps to reduce your risk for UTIs and lower the likelihood of developing a second UTI after an initial infection. In this post, we discuss the causes and symptoms of UTIs in older adults and share some of the best ways to lower the risk of infection.
Men and women of all ages can benefit from taking steps to address UTI risk factors, but for people who have already had at least one UTI, prevention is an excellent idea. Once you experience one urethra, ureter, or bladder infection, your risk of developing another one rises. In fact, an estimated 53% of women over the age of 55 will have a second infection within one year. Older women and men can follow these tips to reduce the risk of first and recurrent UTIs.
Irritated skin in the genital area can put you at a greater risk for UTIs. When tissue becomes inflamed, bacteria are more likely to get trapped in the urethra and cause an infection. As a result, older people should look for gentle, hypoallergenic, or skin-safe personal care products, including:
If you develop irritation when using a product, discontinue use immediately and look for alternative products.
Fluid intake is an essential part of urinary health and UTI prevention. Urine plays an important role in overall urinary health. Each time you urinate, it helps flush microbes out of your bladder and urethra. If you don't urinate frequently enough, bacteria growth is more likely to occur.
Staying hydrated aids in urine production by providing the liquid needed to produce the bodily fluid. Water intake is a major part of hydration, but you can also get water from other drinks and from foods. Your medical provider can advise you on how much water to drink daily to support your urinary health.
Solid waste naturally contains E. coli and other types of bacteria. When you move your bowels, some of these microorganisms may remain in the area of your anus. If you wipe from back to front after you go to the bathroom, you may transfer bacteria from your anal area to your urethra. Wiping from front to back is an essential part of healthy bathroom habits for everyone, but it’s especially important for women due to the location of the urethra in front of the vagina rather than in the penis.
Frequent trips to the bathroom can be a hassle, but holding your urine can put you at a greater risk for UTI. Holding urine for extended periods allows bacteria to remain in the bladder, where they can multiply and give rise to a bacterial infection. Urinating as soon as you notice the urge helps you flush bacteria out of the urinary tract.
Wearing the wrong kind of underwear is associated with an increased risk of UTIs. Specifically, synthetic fabrics can limit airflow, leading to dampness that encourages bacterial growth. Underwear that rubs against the skin because it's too tight or loose may lead to irritation that can contribute to a UTI. To promote dryer skin and lower the likelihood of inflammation, choose breathable, 100% cotton panties or briefs and avoid seamless undergarments, G-strings, and thongs.
Switching to showers may reduce your risk of UTIs if you usually take baths. Warm water can encourage bacterial growth, meaning that although relaxing, a long soak could give rise to an infection. For those worried about the chance of a fall, installing grab bars or using a shower seat may make it possible to shower more safely.
Many compounds in foods and drinks that your body can't utilize are filtered out by your kidneys and end up in urine stored in the bladder. Some may be too harsh for your bladder and trigger inflammation. Bladder irritation can contribute to incontinence and cause unpleasant symptoms like frequent urination. When the bladder is irritated, it can increase the risk of a UTI.
Some common bladder irritants include:
Most people won't need to avoid all of the above foods. The best way to determine which ones may be triggering irritation is to eliminate them all from your diet and then add them back in one at a time. Alternatively, you can keep a symptom journal where you record what you eat and drink and whether you experience urinary pain or discomfort afterward.
Incontinence makes urinary tract infections more likely to occur, but with proper incontinence care, you can lower your risk of infections. Here are some tips to follow:
In addition to reducing the risk of UTIs, good hygiene can also help you feel fresher, cut down on irritation, and reduce incontinence odors.
The right dietary supplements may play a role in overall urinary health and potentially reduce the risk of infection. Some supplements to consider include:
Generally, supplements should be considered part of your overall healthy lifestyle. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking any new supplement for the first time. There is no evidence to suggest that any supplement is more effective than medication for treating UTIs, so you should never try to take cranberry extract or another supplement to cure an existing infection.
After menopause, estrogen levels in women dramatically decline. This leads to many changes in the reproductive and urinary systems. Vaginal dryness and irritation are more likely to occur, and the vagina and urinary tract linings grow thinner and more delicate. In addition, lower estrogen levels may cause a decline in good bacteria. One possible solution to the effects of low estrogen is hormone replacement therapy or HRT. One study found that women who used HRT were less likely to develop recurrent UTIs and had higher levels of probiotics in their urine.
Although there is scientific evidence to support the use of HRT in women prone to UTIs, the medication isn't ideal for anyone. HRT may increase the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, and blood clots in some women. As a result, it's crucial to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of estrogen replacement therapy with your healthcare provider to determine if it's the best choice for you.
The risk of UTIs increases with age; the older a person is, the more likely they are to develop a UTI. Because the immune system slows down with age, older adults are also more prone to experiencing complications from UTIs, such as kidney and blood infections.
The most common cause of UTIs is bacteria, and older adults may be more likely to have bacteria in their urinary systems or be more vulnerable to microbes. Some of the reasons for a higher incidence of UTIs in seniors include:
Some common UTI symptoms in older adults include:
Kidney stones, sexually transmitted diseases, and other conditions may cause similar symptoms, so it's important not to try and self-diagnose. Only healthcare professionals can analyze a urine sample to determine if you have a UTI and prescribe the proper medical treatment to treat it, such as a course of antibiotics.
When left untreated, a lower urinary tract infection can lead to a potentially life-threatening kidney infection — but the good news is that treatment for UTIs is usually as simple as taking oral antibiotics. If your loved one is experiencing symptoms of a UTI like frequent urination or a burning sensation, seek treatment at a doctor's office or an urgent care center. Make sure they continue antibiotic use until the prescribed supply is gone and then begin implementing the preventative measures to lower the likelihood of recurring infections.
Shop probiotics and supplements to prevent UTIs and promote urinary tract health online at Because Market.