By Stacey Burling, Staff Writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer
For many young women, urinary tract infections are an occasional annoyance. They cause a few painful hours and many trips to the bathroom, but are soon dispatched with medication.
But they are something else again for the elderly. They send millions of women – and men – to the hospital every year and can kill if infection spreads to the kidneys or blood.
“Pneumonia and urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the biggest infectious reasons for admission to the hospital for older adults,” said John Bruza, a geriatrician at Penn Medicine.
UTIs are feared enough that many hospitals are working harder to keep infections from starting on their watch by restricting use of urinary catheters. Infections acquired through catheters tend to be worse than those that patients get at home.
Because overuse of antibiotics can lead to tougher bugs, there is also a campaign to make sure doctors don’t assume that vague symptoms in an older person started in the urinary tract.
“It’s just more complicated for older adults,” Bruza said.
Urinary tract infections are relatively common in young, sexually active women. Middle-aged women are less likely to get them. But more than 10 percent of women older than 65 and almost a third of those over 85 get a UTI each year, said Jennifer Khelil, vice president of medical affairs, physician services, at Virtua.
Rare in young men, the infections are more common in older men – though still not as frequent as in older women.
Older people are at greater risk for serious illness because UTIs are often further along before they are caught and because the elderly often have other health problems that make them more vulnerable.
“It speaks to just how medically fragile some of these folks can be,” Khelil said.
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