Getting a UTI is no fun for anyone. After all, it is an infection in your body. You may think they stand for Unbelievably, Totally Inconvenient, but a urinary tract infection can put more than just a damper on your day, they can be fatal.
Now, now, let me explain. UTIs are incredibly common and easy to treat, usually. Anyone can get a UTI at any age, but women seem to suffer the most due to the female anatomy and not wiping from front to back. According to the CDC, 8-10 million people are treated for urinary tract infections annually, making it one of the most common bacterial infections.
A UTI (urinary tract infection) occurs when bacteria (usually E. coli) get into the urinary tract and multiply. Typically, urine moves through the urinary system (urethra, ureters, bladder, and kidneys) without contamination because our kidneys filter the germs. However, bacteria can easily get into the urinary system, causing infection and inflammation.
UTIs can be quite painful for some, or you may have no symptoms at all. Whether you're a novice or a pro at battling a UTI, it is uber important to treat the infection at the first sign. Although UTIs are very common and can go away on their own, they can also turn into something else that can be life-threatening. Knowing the symptoms and what to look for is key in treating a UTI quickly.
Common UTI Symptoms Include:
- Frequent urge to urinate
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Urine that appears cloudy with a sour odor
- Urine that appears red — a sign of blood in the urine
- Pelvic pain and pressure
- Lower back pain
- Low-grade fever and chills
If you experience any of the above ailments, you should take a UTI test pronto (either at home or doctor). If you do in fact have a UTI, your doctor will likely prescribe a round of antibiotics for 7-10 days. But for those that don't suffer from the typical symptoms or think they don’t have a problem, an uncomplicated UTI just got more complicated.
The Dangers of an Untreated UTI Can Be Life-threatening
Like mentioned a million times before, most UTIs are not considered a life-threatening condition because they are easily treated with antibiotics. On that note, if a UTI is left untreated or if you wait too long to seek medical attention, the bacteria in the urethra can travel up to the bladder or make a pit stop in the kidneys. Bladder and kidney infections also can be treated with antibiotics, but if it is severe, you may require a trip to the ER for an IV of antibiotics.
If bacteria attack the kidneys, it can cause permanent damage that reduces kidney function or kidney failure. In severe cases, a UTI can cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream (sepsis) and spread to other organs. Sepsis can be fatal. This becomes dangerous because many people don't even know they have a UTI. Some people are also at a higher risk for complications of a UTI, including older adults, pregnant women, people with diabetes, kidney problems, or a weakened immune system. FYI, actress, Tanya Roberts reportedly died from complications of an untreated UTI which spread to her kidneys and gallbladder. It really can happen!
What is Sepsis, and Can I Get It From a UTI?
According to the CDC, sepsis is the body's extreme response to an infection. Sepsis occurs when the body damages its own tissues while responding to infection. Basically, for sepsis to occur from a UTI, the amount of bacteria overwhelms the bladder system, and forces it out into the bloodstream. When this happens, it’s called Urosepsis. It is the body's potentially life-threatening response to the infection. Even though most people recover from mild sepsis, urosepsis can be fatal if not treated properly or in a timely fashion. Sepsis can develop into septic shock, which is a dramatic drop in blood pressure that can lead to organ failure, tissue damage, and death. If your doctor believes that the infection might have spread and developed into urosepsis, they will order blood tests, CT scan or ultrasound to confirm. Treatment for urosepsis is more complex, but generally antibiotics will be given intravenously. The goal is to never let your UTI go long enough for it to spread.
Symptoms of urosepsis include:
- pain on the lower sides of your back
- nausea and vomiting
- extreme tiredness
- decreased urine output
- inability to think clearly
- difficulty breathing
- abnormal heart function
- abdominal pain
- rapid heart rate
- high or low body temperature
- fast breathing
Is Blood in Urine Normal With a UTI?
Before you frantically freak out because you saw some blood in your urine while having a UTI, we want you to know that seeing some blood is normal. Your urinary tract is infected, which causes inflammation and irritation to your cells. It is common for red blood cells to leak into your urine with a UTI. Hence why, they hurt so much. Your urine may look pinkish, have spots of red, or it can also look cloudy.
In fact, when a urine culture is given, there should be traces of blood, nitrate, and leukocytes present. The actual medical term for blood in the urine is called hematuria. The blood should go away once the UTI is treated with antibiotics. Of course, please DO contact your doctor if you notice an unusual amount of blood or if it continues after the meds are finished.
The bottom line here is that you shouldn’t be afraid you’re going to die from a UTI, just as long as you are proactive about getting medical attention. If you know the signs, know your body, and know what to do, your UTI will be yesterday’s news. In fact, your UTI may actually be something else, like a yeast infection, Bacterial Vaginosis, or even an STD. That is why it really is so important to call your doctor at the first sign of infection. Stay healthy!