- Why is early identification and treatment of a UTI important?
- What is a UTI?
- Who is at risk of getting a UTI?
- What are the signs and symptoms of a UTI?
- What do I do if the person I support has a sign or symptom of a UTI?
- How is a UTI treated?
- Are there steps that can be taken to prevent a UTI?
- Where can I get more information about UTIs?
Infections of the urinary tract are the second most common type of internal infection. Regional center special incident reports indicate that one in three hospitalizations for internal infection is related to a UTI. The earlier the UTI is diagnosed and treated, the faster the person will get better –usually without the need for hospitalization. As a support person, you must know who is most at risk for a UTI, what are the signs and symptoms of a UTI, and what can be done to prevent a UTI.
A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract. The urinary tract consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The kidneys filter the blood to get rid of wastewater and produce urine (pee) that flows from the kidneys to the bladder and out the urethra. Most UTIs are caused by bacteria (germs) that enter the urinary tract through the urethra.
Although anyone, no matter the age or sex, can get a UTI, you need to be watchful of the people you support who are most likely to get a UTI. Women are four times as likely as men to get a UTI. For women, the lifetime risk of having a UTI is greater than 50 percent. For men and women, the risk of a UTI is highest after age 50. Medical conditions such as diabetes or kidney problems put people at higher risk of a UTI. Individuals who do not walk, do not complete personal care/toileting independently, have bowel incontinence or constipation, or use a urinary catheter (a tube to drain the bladder) are at higher risk for a UTI as well. People you support who take antipsychotic medication or have seizure activity may be at increased risk. Frequent or recent sexual activity is an important risk factor for young women.
A burning feeling when urinating is the most common sign of a UTI. Other signs and symptoms include:
- Feeling like you have to pee even when you just finished urinating.
- Sleeping a lot, being very tired, or having no energy.
- Having pain in the lower stomach or genital area.
- Having cloudy, dark, bloody, or foul-smelling urine.
- Having pain in the back or side below the ribs.
- Having a fever or the chills.
- Feeling nauseous and vomiting.
Some symptoms you may hear about, for example, when a person tells you, “I have pain when I go to the bathroom,” “I want to stay home and sleep,” or “I feel hot.” Others you may learn about by seeing changes in the person’s behavior or their daily routine. For example, has the number of times the individual goes to the bathroom each day increased? Does the person rub or hold their lower stomach or back? The answers to these questions provide clues to how the person is feeling.
If the person you support has one or more of the signs and symptoms of a UTI, call the doctor for advice and schedule a medical appointment. The earlier you get help, the faster the person will get better.
Share information you gathered using the Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of a UTI Checklist with the doctor. It is very important to write down what you see and what you hear or what the person tells you so you have the information readily available to share with the doctor and others who support the individual.
To learn more about how to prepare for the doctor’s visit and how you can help during the visit, use the Supporter Tool – Doctor’s Visit Checklist.
Supporter Checklist--Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of a Possible UTI
Does this person have a burning feeling when going to the bathroom (urinating)? ☐ Yes ☐ No
Does this person feel like they have to pee even when they just finished urinating? ☐ Yes ☐ No
Does this person have pain in the lower stomach or genital area? ☐ Yes ☐ No
Does this person sleep a lot, seem very tired, and have no energy? ☐ Yes ☐ No
Does this person have have cloudy, dark, bloody, or foul smelling urine (pee)? ☐ Yes ☐ No
Does this person have a fever or chills? ☐ Yes ☐ No
Does this person have pain in the back or side below the ribs? ☐ Yes ☐ No
Does the person have nausea or are they vomiting? ☐ Yes ☐ No
If the person has one or more of these symptoms, it is time to call the doctor for advice and to schedule an appointment.
Use this checklist to help identify signs and symptoms. Write down what you see and hear to share with the doctor and with others who assist the person.
UTIs are treated with antibiotics that can kill the germs (bacteria) that cause the infection. If diagnosed with a UTI, make sure the person you support:
- Takes antibiotics as directed! Antibiotics are prescribed by doctors to fight a UTI. Make sure antibiotics are taken as directed. It is important that the person with the UTI take all the antibiotics prescribed even if they start to feel better.
- Does not become dehydrated! Lack of water can lead to dehydration which can make a person sick. A person with a UTI is at risk of dehydration. Encourage the person to drink lots of water and other fluids (eight or more 8 ounce glasses a day) to maintain adequate water in their body.
- Gets plenty of rest! The amount of sleep a person needs increases when they are sick, especially if the person has a fever.
- Urinates often! The person should try to empty the bladder each time they pee.
To help prevent a UTI, make sure that you and others who support the individual are familiar with steps to prevent a UTI. Share the UTI prevention steps with each person you support and make sure they know what to do and why it is important. If a person has a UTI, review prevention steps with both the individual and supporters, again. Once a person has had a UTI, they are at higher risk of having a second UTI.
ALERT! If a person has a second UTI, they are at an even higher risk of having another. Have a discussion with the person’s doctor to see if additional steps to prevent a UTI should be taken. Review the prevention steps with both the individual and others who support the individual to make sure they are understood and being followed.
To help prevent a UTI, a person should:
- Drink plenty of water and other fluids (eight or more 8 ounce glasses a day).
- Go to the bathroom frequently.
- After a bowel movement, wipe the anal area from front to back with toilet paper until clean.
Women should take these additional steps to prevent a UTI:
- After urinating, wipe the urethral area with toilet paper to dry.
- Change sanitary pads or tampons often.
- Urinate before and after sexual activity.
- Take showers or plain baths and avoid bubble baths or other feminine products that have deodorants or perfumes.
- Keep genital area clean and dry.
- Wear underwear with a cotton crotch.
Provide additional support as needed. Individuals who do not walk or do not complete personal care/toileting independently may need more support. Evaluate each person’s need for support to determine how to best help in preventing a UTI. Make sure that people who need more support are clean and dry after a bowel movement or urinating.
To learn more about preventing a UTI, use the Supporter Tool – Factsheet and Checklist – Preventing a UTI. For help when sharing information about prevention steps with a person you support, use the Consumer Tool – Knowing What to Look for: Urinary Tract Infections.
- Spring 2012 SafetyNet Newsletter: Early Recognition of Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) Prevents Hospitalization
- Supporter Tools – SafetyNet Training Materials for Preventing a UTI
- Go to WebMD.com for a slideshow on the UTI.
- Go to MedicineNet.com for a slideshow on signs and symptoms of a UTI.
- Go to National Kidney and Urological Diseases Information Clearinghouse for more information about the UTI in adults and a pronunciation guide. Information is provided in English and Spanish.
- Go to healthroadsmedia.org for a slide show on prevention of a catheter-associated UTI.
- Go to MedLinePlus.com and cdc.gov for information about a catheter-related UTI.