When urinary tract infections turn deadly

Published: Jan. 18, 2021 at 4:13 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - The death of Tanya Roberts may have taken some by surprise. At 65 she was known as a Bond Girl and Charlie’s Angel.

What may have been more startling she died of sepsis, brought on by a urinary tract infection. “Most urinary tract infections are symptomatic,” says Dr. Catherine McCarthy a professor with the UNRMED Family Medicine Program. “Meaning women have pain or burning when they urinate. They have may urgency or frequency. Or they may notice blood in the urine,” she says.

Women have an increased risk at developing UTIs. That’s because their urethra-- the tube which goes from the bladder to the outside of the body-- is shorter. It takes less time for the bacteria to travel to the bladder, therefore increasing the risk of a UTI.

A course of antibiotics, and the problem typically goes away. The problem arises though when those symptoms are ignored or worse yet, the UTI has no symptoms.

That’s when the bacteria travels up to the bladder, and then into the kidneys. The infection can then head into the blood stream.

The bacteria can affect the heart, the circulatory system starts to fail, blood pressure drops and organs shut down. Unless treated before symptoms fully develop patients run an 80% chance of dying.

“And if they actually become septic with the infection, they need to be hospitalized with IV antibiotics,” says Dr. McCarthy.

Dr. McCarthy says don’t hesitate to treat a UTI early. That’s because 31% of septic cases start as an UTI. Risk factors where UTIs can lead to sepsis include being over 55, having a history of kidney stones, diabetes, or other conditions where the urethra can be blocked.

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