When the urinary tract is healthy, the urine contains waste matter, along with fluid and salt. It does not contain bacteria, fungi or viruses. So it is actually considered to be sterile.
Urinary tract infections (UTI) occur when microorganisms set up shop in any of the four parts of the urinary tract. (See picture.) The most common culprit is bacteria from the colon, called E. coli. The unseen organisms typically cling to the opening of the urethra, then multiply. From there, they can move up the urinary tract.
Urine flows out from the kidneys. This flow is usually strong enough to wash out any bacteria before it can get a toehold. And the immune system fights off the bacteria, too. However, even with these defenses, infections still occur. In some cases they lead to kidney infection, a type of UTI that typically moves upstream to one or both kidneys.
Risks For Seniors
Urinary tract infections are very common, ranking second to respiratory infections and resulting in nearly 10 million doctor visits yearly. Poor urine flow, personal hygiene issues, suppressed immune systems and nervous system problems create good growing environments for these infections. That is why seniors are so often victims.
Below are conditions and situations that are common among seniors and increase their risk of urinary tract infections.
- Insufficient intake of fluids.
- Narrowing of the urethra, enlargement or inflaming of the prostate, kidney stones.
- Bowel incontinence.
- Immobility and lack of movement.
- Nursing home patients.
- Catheter for the bladder.
Lower UTI Symptoms
Most people with a lower urinary tract infection suffer from some of the following symptoms.
- Frequent urge to urinate. (This may occur right after urination.)
- Burning feeling in the urethra or bladder when urinating, or even when not urinating.
- A small amount of urine is voided, even though the urge to pass more is felt.
- Urine may appear cloudy or milky, as well as having a strong odor. It may even be reddish in color, when it contains blood.
- Feeling wiped out. Fever is possible.
- A bloated feeling in the abdomen. Women can feel uncomfortable pressure on the pubic bone. Men can feel a fullness in the rectum.
Some people do not get any warning signs at all. And with some elderly, the only symptoms that may be noticeable are changes in their mental state or increased confusion.
(Sources: NIH, National Kidney Foundation)