Monday, August 6, 2012

UTI May Cause Sudden Confusion

UTI and Confusion – Photo by Chalmers Butterfield at Wikimedia Commons
If a person suddenly becomes confused, family members and friends often assume that Alzheimer's must be setting in or that all older people tend to lose their memories and prepare for the worst. Many times, the source of sudden confusion can be identified and corrected, and a urinary tract infection (UTI) is often to blame.

What are symptoms of a UTI?

Infections can occur anywhere along the urinary tract, including the:
  • kidneys (pyelonephritis)
  • ureters (rarely the site of infection)
  • bladder (cystitis - most common)
  • urethra (urethritis)
The urinary tract is a common site of infection because it serves as an opening in the body that leads to the outside. Bacteria is the most common germ causing urinary tract infections.

Symptoms may begin as mild and can progress in severity. Symptoms commonly associated with a UTI include:
  • Confusion (this may be the only symptom of a UTI, particularly in the elderly)
  • Urine that is cloudy or bloody
  • Foul odor in the urine
  • Burning or pain while urinating
  • Cramping pain or pressure in the lower abdomen or low back
  • Feeling the need to urinate frequently
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
A UTI can lead to sepsis and decreased kidney function and in the most severe cases can lead to death. Someone who has dementia may experience a sudden increase in confusion, which can be a red flag indicating that an infection has developed. Checking the urine for the presence of bacteria and infection-causing germs is often a first step in discovering the source of sudden and increased confusion. The NIH recommends calling 911 if a person develops sudden confusion, particularly if the person has a fever, other changes in vital signs, or if the person has other health conditions such as diabetes.

What increases risk for a UTI?

Older women are particularly at risk for a urinary tract infection. A woman's urethra is shorter than a man's urethra, reducing the distance infection-causing bacteria must travel to cause infection. Increased age, sexual activity, and menopause also increase one's chance to develop a UTI in women.

Other common factors that increase risk for developing a urinary tract infection include:
  • Diabetes (many people have this condition and do not realize it)
  • Urinary retention
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Urinary catheters (a tube usually inserted through the urethra to empty the bladder)
  • Kidney stones
  • Immobility and inactivity (especially those confined to bed)
  • Bowel incontinence
  • Living in a long-term care facility or nursing home
  • Pregnancy
  • Surgery or procedures (particularly of the urinary tract)
Can confusion due to a UTI be reversed?

Fortunately, sudden confusion or increased confusion due to a urinary tract infection may completely reverse with prompt and effective treatment. A healthcare provider will typically prescribe antibiotics to treat a UTI. Some people may need to be admitted to a hospital or other facility for treatment, particularly if the symptoms are severe or if the person has other variables that could affect his or her health.

Those who are prone to recurrent or chronic urinary tract infections may wish to check with a healthcare professional about options for trying to prevent future infections. People with known risk factors for UTI, such as diabetes and conditions that make it difficult to completely empty the bladder, may wish to weigh pros and cons for treating those risk factors in order to potentially increase quality of life and decrease risk for urinary tract infections.

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Information in this article is not medical advice and is for information only. Find more articles on Katrena's blog at the Fit Tips 4 Life site map.

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