How a UTI Becomes Life-Threatening
UTI. Three little letters that cause women no end of trouble. (Men are affected, too, but far less often than women.) Those three letters stand for urinary tract infection, a condition that originates in the urethra or the bladder and is caused by bacteria inside the urethra.
UTIs are easily cured with antibiotics, but if one is left untreated, the bacteria that caused it can spread and become a dangerous health issue. This misstep can lead to serious outcomes such as kidney disease, sepsis and death.
Symptoms of a UTI include a burning sensation while urinating, blood in your urine, a frequent need to urinate with very little urine produced, and pelvic pain. Sometimes these symptoms can be mild and even go unnoticed, leading to a lack of diagnosis. Sometimes they can be debilitating. Some women experience serious abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. It is important to call a doctor if you have any of these symptoms, because treating a potential UTI immediately can head off a more serious medical emergency.
How a UTI escalates
It's important to remember that your organs are all connected, working together to keep your body going. In the case of a UTI, bacteria, which have entered the body through the urethra, travel up the urinary tract and then move to the bladder. From there, the infection can easily spread to the kidneys and, because the kidneys work to purify your blood, get pumped into the bloodstream and circulate throughout your body. At that point, your blood can get infected, and a blood infection can cause permanent kidney damage and, as mentioned above, sepsis and even death.
Sepsis, which is referred to as urosepsis when caused by a UTI, is one of the life-threatening conditions that can be caused by an untreated UTI, and it is particularly serious for people with a weakened immune system. Sepsis is the body's extreme response to an infection, triggering a chain reaction that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One-third of people who develop sepsis die from it.
Like UTIs, kidney infections are treated with antibiotics and occasionally call for hospitalization, so the patient can be observed and get enough fluids. Doctors may also want to do CT (computerized tomography) scans to ensure that kidney infection is the proper diagnosis. The length of the hospital stay varies from person to person depending on the gravity of the infection. Like sepsis, a kidney infection left untreated will cause kidney failure, kidney disease and potentially death.
A UTI can be caused by any actions that introduce bacteria inside the urethra, including sexual intercourse, as bacteria sometimes get pushed into the urethra during sex. It is important to urinate after having sex to prevent contracting a UTI in this manner. Furthermore, women need to ensure they always wipe properly after a bowel movement: front to back, to prevent fecal matter from getting into the urethra.
Another common cause of UTIs is when people simply "hold in" their urine and refuse to use the bathroom. How? If you don't urinate, you don't remove toxins as your body requires. Allowing the bacteria to build up is welcoming an infection into your urinary tract and possibly your bloodstream. So do yourself a favor and use the bathroom when your body tells you it's time.
Keeping tabs on your body is always a good idea, so you know when your bladder feels different, which could point to a potential infection of the urinary tract. It's important to give yourself the care and time to use the bathroom, drink plenty of water and notice when things just aren't quite right.
And if things aren't quite right, it's time to see a doctor. If you don't have a physician you see regularly, you're fortunate that video visits are a part of many healthcare professionals' practices. Even if an in-person follow-up might be required for a condition such as a UTI, taking the first step is vital. Giddy telehealth provides access to hundreds of healthcare professionals whose expertise covers the full scope of medical care, and many offer same-day appointments.