Are UTIs more common as we get older?

How to manage recurrent infections as we age

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Emma Thornton
Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
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02 February 2018

What are UTIs?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract. In cases of mild UTIs, the bacteria only tends to reach the urethra and lower urinary tract, whereas if UTIs progress into bladder or kidney infections, they can then become much more serious.

The terms cystitis and UTI are often used interchangeably. Although bacterial infections are often the cause of cystitis too, this term really means ‘inflammation of the bladder’ and, in some cases, for example with interstitial cystitis, bacteria isn’t found to be at the root of the cause.

For many, UTIs are a one off and clear up quickly, but for others, recurrent infections can be problematic. This is often the case as we get older and elderly people especially, are often struck down by recurrent UTIs, cystitis or incontinence. 

What are some of the symptoms of UTIs?

Some of the symptoms of UTIs include the following:

Some symptoms to look out for which suggest the infection may be more serious:

If these symptoms become present, it may be time to go the doctor. This could suggest that the infection has spread to the bladder or kidneys which can be dangerous, especially in older individuals.

Why are infections more likely as we get older?

As we get older UTIs can become more common for a number of reasons. Here are some contributing factors to be aware of:

  • Menopause can make infections more likely – Unfortunately along with all of the other symptoms that women at this stage in their lives have to contend with, UTIs can also become more common. As oestrogen drops off, this can affect the pH balance of the tissues within the urinary tract. The tissues become thinner and drier which means they are more vulnerable to damage and infection. Moist mucous membranes are normally an important protective tool, so, as these dry out, infections are more able to set in
  • Lifestyle habits change – As people age, especially if working patterns or daily routines change, bad habits can more easily set in. Sweet treats are often more common and teas and coffees often take priority over water. Sugar feeds the bad bacteria in and around the urinary tract which will only encourage infections, whilst caffeine acts as an irritant to the bladder

  • Use of antibiotics – Antibiotics may be prescribed to help fight the UTIs themselves or, as we get older, antibiotics may also be prescribed for a number of other reasons. Although antibiotics are intended to fend off bad bacteria, they can also harm the balance of friendly bacteria we have in an around the urinary tract as they attempt to achieve this. We need the good bacteria to help keep bad bacteria at bay, so overuse of antibiotics can make this process more difficult. Although antibiotics are in some cases required, when it comes to UTIs, they aren’t always necessary – so get clued up and talk to your doctor if you aren’t sure!
  • An enlarged prostate could be making things worse  If cystitis is recurring in men, especially in older men, then an enlarged prostate could be at the root of the problem. Click to read more on this and what signs and symptoms you should be looking out for
  • Other health issues could be at play – As well as menopause and enlarged prostate, other issues which are often more common in the elderly population including prolapses, diabetes, urinary incontinence or the use of catheters, all of which, can all make episodes of cystitis more likely. 

Can home remedies help? 

Despite some of the extra risk factors to contend with as we get older, some simple home remedies may help to keep those infections under control:

  • Drink enough of the right liquids – Water intake is key; as people get older they often don’t drink enough (or assume that their tea and coffee consumption counts, which it doesn’t!). Water helps flush the system out and keeps your urine dilute. Concentrated urine is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, so if the bladder isn’t emptying frequently enough, this is when problems can arise. Cranberry Juice is another one to include too. Only small amounts are required on top of your daily water intake and always ensure that you opt for a good quality one with no added sugar, such as Biotta Wild Mountain Cranberry. Cranberry is thought to help prevent bad bacteria from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract so may help keep those recurrent infections at bay
  • Keep on top of good hygiene practices – As we get older, other health complaints or mobility issues can easily throw our normal routines off. However, despite this, these tips from me could help you to maintain your urinary tract health: 
    • Go to the toilet as soon as you need to – As much as this is often easier said than done (especially if you also have a current infection), going to the loo as soon as you need to is important. This helps to keep your urine dilute and flush out unwanted bacteria
    • Keep clean and dry – Cleaning practices should be considered: we don’t want harsh soaps or chemicals that could risk upsetting the delicate pH of the urinary tract, douching may also be too brash, as are many fragranced products or talcs, so these are all ones to watch. If incontinence is a problem (this can be a vicious cycle with recurrent infections), then keeping clean and dry is the upmost priority to help keep the bacteria count down.

Next, natural remedies

A number of natural remedies could also help to keep symptoms under control:

  • Probiotics – Especially if you have been on a course of antibiotics, probiotics are a good option to add to your regime. There are different types, for example, those on medication, or for women, so ensure you get the best type to help support those levels of good bacteria.

 

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Biotta Wild Mountain Cranberry Juice

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A combination of the fresh juice of organic cranberries together with birch and agave nectar.
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Our expert's top picks for a healthy bladder and dietary advice

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Key products for bladder health and cystitis management: Uva-ursi and Echinacea Complex, Cranberry …
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Here’s what I recommend

Emma our women's health advisor recommends Uva-ursi complex to help ease symptoms of cystitis and cranberry to maintain bladder health.

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Did you know?

Cystitis is sometimes known as ‘honeymoon cystitis’. Why? Well, during sex, bacteria can spread from the perineum to the urethral opening. The risk of developing cystitis is therefore increased depending on the frequency you have intercourse (sorry honeymooners!).

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