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Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

UTIs are infections of the bladder, kidneys, or tubes that carry urine. They are common in older people but are easily treated and there are steps you can take to prevent them.

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

There are different types of UTIs with varying severity of symptoms.

Lower UTIs

Infections of the bladder and/or the urethra (the tubes which carry urine out of the body) are known as lower UTIs and can have the following symptoms:

  • Pain or burning when peeing.
  • Needing to pee suddenly or more often than usual.
  • Smelly or cloudy urine.
  • Blood in your urine.
  • Lower tummy pain.
  • Loss of bladder control.
  • A mild temperature.

Upper UTIs

Infections of the kidneys and/or the ureter (the tubes which connect the kidneys to the bladder) are more serious and can lead to kidney damage if they are untreated. Symptoms include:

  • a high temperature, or feeling hot and shivery
  • feeling sick or being sick
  • pain in your lower back or sides of your abdomen.

UTIs can cause severe confusion which develops quickly over a couple of days, especially in older people. These symptoms can mirror dementia-like symptoms, but don't jump to conclusions – if you're worried, you should see your doctor.

What treatment is available?

Speak to your doctor if you have symptoms of a UTI. You'll need to give a urine sample to help them diagnose what's causing your symptoms. Most UTIs can be easily treated with antibiotics. Your doctor should advise on how long you should take antibiotics for.

Call 111 if you suspect you have a kidney infection or upper UTI. They will advise on the best course of treatment depending on your symptoms. If the infection is severe you may be referred to a hospital for further tests and treatment.

What causes UTIs?

UTIs are caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract. This is most commonly bacteria from poo, due to poor hygiene or wiping back to front after going to the toilet, but can also be from urinary catheters or having sex.

Older people are more susceptible to UTIs due to a weaker flow of urine, meaning the bladder doesn't empty fully. In men, an enlarged prostate can also make it difficult to empty the bladder completely. This can lead to bacteria building up in the urine and bladder.

Women are more likely to develop UTIs than men, as bacteria can reach the bladder more easily in women.

How can I prevent UTIs?

It's not always possible to prevent UTIs, but there's things you can do to try.

Things to do

  1. Wiping from front to back when going to the toilet.
  2. Maintaining hygiene by washing daily using unperfumed soap.
  3. Trying to empty your bladder fully when peeing.
  4. Wearing cotton underwear.
  5. Drinking plenty of fluids – aim for six to eight glasses of water a day.
  6. Emptying your bladder after sex.

Things to avoid

  1. Holding on when you feel the urge to pee.
  2. Using perfumed soaps or talcum powder.
  3. Wearing tight trousers or synthetic underwear.

If you or someone you look after needs help washing, going to the toilet or getting dressed, it's important to get the help you need. Find out more about arranging care and support.

My 94-year-old father got a UTI and the hospital staff assumed he had dementia, because he wasn't making any sense. I had to make sure they knew this wasn't normal for him.

Jane | Leicester

How do UTIs affect people with dementia?

If someone with dementia develops a UTI, they may quickly become more confused or agitated, or you might notice a sudden change in their behaviour. This sudden confusion is also known as delirium.

The person with dementia may not be able to communicate how they feel, so if you notice a sudden or drastic change in them, seek medical advice. Infections can speed up the progression of dementia, so it's important to get help quickly if you suspect someone has a UTI.

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Last updated: Apr 20 2021

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