Urinary tract infections, also called UTIs, are dangerous infections that occur when bacteria enter the bladder, urethra or kidneys. Urinary tract infections account for more than 8 million doctor visits each year. If left untreated, these infections can damage these organs. The infection can also spread throughout the body and cause sepsis, which may lead to death.
The elderly are more likely to get urinary tract infections than younger individuals. There are many reasons that older individuals are more likely to suffer from UTIs, including:
- Weak muscles surrounding the pelvic floor and bladder – This leads to bladder retention.
- Urine retention – Getting rid of urine through urinating also helps get rid of bacteria that may be in the bladder. Bladder retention prevents urine from flowing out of the body normally, thus increasing the risk for an infection.
- Bladder and bowel incontinence – Using incontinence products increases the risk of UTIs.
- The use of catheters – Catheters increase the risk of UTI because they allow bacteria to travel along the catheter into the bladder or kidney.
Older women, in particular, are more susceptible to urinary tract infections. Women are four times more likely to get UTIs than men. Nearly thirty percent of women over the age of 85 have had a UTI within the last year, according to Healthline. Some women get recurrent urinary tract infections, which occur every couple of months.
One reason that women get these infections more often is because they have shorter urethras than men. This makes it easy for bacteria to enter the urinary tract. Now, researchers might have found another clue as to why older women are more susceptible to UTIs—estrogen.
After menopause, levels of estrogen in the body decreases significantly. It is believed that the low levels of estrogen play a role in recurrent UTIs in postmenopausal women as low estrogen causes changes in the urinary tract that make it more susceptible to infection. When estrogen levels drop, it causes urogenital atrophy or a wasting away of the urinary tract. This weakens the bladder and the urethra comprising their ability to control urinary functions. Because the bladder is fragile, the bacteria cells are better able to reach the underlying tissue where they cause infection. The cells also hide out in the weakened tissue prompting new infections.
Estrogen protects against urinary tract infections in several ways. Estrogen helps strengthen urinary tract tissue by tightening the surface layer of the bladder cells. This helps guards the cells against infection. Estrogen also triggers the production of the body’s natural antimicrobial peptides in the bladder. These antimicrobial proteins reduce the bacteria cells before they have the chance to multiply.
Research backs up the idea that estrogen can help prevent UTIs. A 2013 research study found that applying a low-dose estrogen cream to the vaginal area does prevent recurrent UTIs. In the study, 16 postmenopausal women took vaginal estrogen for two weeks. Antimicrobial cells increased after estrogen supplementation for 12 of the participants.
Estrogen therapy can help restore estrogen levels to a premenopausal level and relieve the symptoms of chronic UTIs. To find out if this treatment is right for you, contact us for an appointment. You can also visit our website to find more health tips for seniors.