Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are pretty common. They are responsible for nearly 10 million doctor visits each year, with one in five women developing the infection at least once in their lifetime. In about 90 percent of cases, UTIs are caused by bacteria that can be easily treated with antibiotics. However, new research suggests that prescribing these bacteria-killing drugs to older adults should be avoided.
Effects of a UTI
The urinary tract is a complex system that includes your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. These structures are involved in filtering blood and expelling waste products as urine. Bacterial infection does not always result in symptoms, but when they do occur, it can include the following:
- Persistent urge to urinate
- Burning sensation during urination
- Passing of tiny amounts of urine
- Cloudy urine
- Red, bright pink, or cola-colored urine—a sign of blood
- Pungent smelling urine
- Pelvic pain—especially in women
While these symptoms appear relatively straightforward in younger patients, it may not be so straightforward when dealing with the older population.
UTIs affect the elderly differently
Medical professionals know that it is harder to diagnose UTIs in adults. This is because the classic signs of a UTI are not always present in this population, despite testing positive for bacteria in urine.
This is thought to be because elderly people have lowered immune systems that delay the onset set of symptom presentation. This is compounded by the fact that older people face health issues that put them at increased risk for developing UTIs that go undiagnosed.
The following increases the risk of UTIs in the elderly:
- History of dementia
- Use of incontinence briefs
- Use of a catheter
- Bowel or bladder incontinence
- Prolapsed bladder
Antibiotics may not provide benefit in the old
A research study investigating the benefits of antibiotic use in the older population found that in some cases, antibiotic use can be harmful.
They explain that the body has a host of various helpful bacteria in the body that promote overall well-being. If we frequently use antibiotics on this population to treat UTIs, it may cause harm. Antibiotic use in older individuals may be of no benefit in most cases.
However, the researchers stress that certain cases absolutely require the use of antibiotics. These cases involve very sick patients, people with invasive bacterial disease, and people about to have bladder or urinary tract surgery.
The authors of the study feel that frequent antibiotic UTI treatment may be more harmful than previously thought, but it is inevitably up to your physician to decide whether you really need them.