After an initial false report, the world was very saddened to learn about Tanya Roberts’ passing. Whether you loved her as Donna’s mom on that 70s show or are big into Bond movies, passing affected a lot of us. Especially those who noted that her cause of death—complications from a Urinary Tract Infection or UTI—hit a little close to home.
How common are UTIs? And how often do they become fatal? We answer these questions and more.
What Is UTI?
Urinary Tract Infections – aka UTIs – are common infections, especially for people with vaginas. That’s because our urethras are shorter compared to those on someone with a penis. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 1 in 5 of us will have one during our lifetime.
If you’ve ever had one before, just hearing the word ’UTI’ will probably give you uncomfortable flashbacks of the symptoms. Your urine becomes cloudy or very yellow and smells strongly and oddly. It burns like you’re peeing knives when you can urinate. But you’ll also find yourself running to the toilet every 15 minutes, only for a couple of painful drops to be squeezed out.
The pain is one thing, but the ease with which they occur almost feels like adding insult to injury. When you have sex (even with a monogamous partner) or use penetrative sex toys, you can accidentally introduce bacteria to the urinary tract.
If you don’t clear yourself adequately (and have a nice pee post-activity to flush things out), that bacteria can result in an infection. (This is one of the more common ways to get a UTI, but not the only way. For instance, always remember to wipe front to back when using the restroom!)
When Can UTIs Cause Death?
The urinary tract includes the kidneys, renal pelvis, ureters, bladder and urethra. Generally, a UTI will stay put in this system, and can be easily cleared up. (A kidney infection caused by a UTI is a more serious issue, which is why you should mention back pain as a symptom to your doctor if you think you have a UTI.)
However, this infection can spread to other parts of your body. Symptoms of this include:
- pain in your back, side, or groin
- Dark or bloody urine
Always, ALWAYS tell your doctor if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. Dying from a UTI is relatively rare—about 13,000 people per year in the US. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be careful.
How Can I Avoid UTIs—Or Serious Complications From One?
There are a few things you can do to help avoid getting a UTI, and making sure that it resolves itself quickly if you do.
To avoid getting a UTI:
- Always wipe front to back
- Pee after sexual activity
- Stay well-hydrated with water and pee regularly (try not to ‘hold’ for long periods, and always empty fully)
- Take showers instead of baths.
- Avoid using douches, sprays, or powders around your vulva
- Stay on top of medical conditions like diabetes which can increase the risk of UTIs
- Decrease stress levels where possible
- Avoid wearing tight underwear or go commando
If you think you might have a UTI, seek medical advice early. Generally, one of several antibiotics if given to you to clear it up. If you have frequent UTIs, your doctor may prescribe longer term antibiotics to prevent repeat infections.
That’s also why it’s very important to be prepared when you visit a doctor.
Being able to answer questions about when your last UTI was and how frequently they happen is important for correct treatment. There may be cause to check for other issues, such as diabetes. In general, your doctor will also advise you to drink plenty of water to try and ‘flush out’ your urinary tract.
You may view a UTI as a simple annoyance that can be cleared up with some cranberry juice. (The jury is still out on whether that works or not, by the way.) But there are possible risks and complications. And, of course, there’s always the risk of another issue masquerading as a Urinary Tract Infection. A simple pee test is the first step to clearing things up!
Facts Checked By:
Dr. Shree Datta is a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist in London, specialising in women’s health including all menstrual problems such as fibroids and endometriosis. Dr. Shree is a keen advocate for patient choice, having written numerous articles and books to promote patient and clinician information. Her vision resonates with INTIMINA, with the common goals of demystifying periods and delivering the best possible care to her patients.
Article written by:
Lane Baumeister is an internationally-based Canadian writer with several years’ experience creating educational and entertaining articles that discuss intimate health and sexual well-being. When not waxing profound about menstruation, she devotes herself to enjoying extremely good food and equally bad movies.