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UTIs in Men, It Happens!

When former President Clinton was admitted to the hospital with what was described as a urinary tract infection (UTI), many people suspected it was a cover story for some other illness.

That’s because women are far more likely than men to contract a UTI. Although the condition is less likely in men, it does happen more often than you think, and the consequences can be deadly.

Our primary care doctors have seen too many instances of men ignoring or dismissing their early symptoms because they don’t believe they can catch UTIs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that as many as 80 percent of women will experience at least one incident. While rarer in younger men, after age 50 the rate of UTIs in men becomes comparable to those of women.

UTIs are the most common bacterial infection in the U.S. At least eight million Americans see a doctor every year for this painful condition.

So here’s what men—and their partners—should know about this serious condition.

What is a UTI?

UTIs involve the parts of the body that produce urine and remove it from the body: the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.

Bacteria (most commonly E. coli) find their way into the urethra and can move up into the body to the bladder (also known as cystitis), the prostate, and then into the kidneys, if not caught in time.

When the infection gets that far, it can enter the bloodstream and become sepsis, which is a potentially fatal illness. It can rapidly damage the lungs, kidneys, brain, and other organs, leading to a system-wide shutdown and, eventually, death. About 20 percent of those who develop sepsis won’t survive it.

Although sepsis can occur at any age, those with diabetes or kidney stones, or who are age 55 and older, are particularly susceptible.

As many as 31 percent of sepsis cases begin as UTIs, leading to as many as 1.6 million deaths in the U.S. and Europe.

When caught in time, however, UTIs are very treatable.

What causes UTIs in men?

The primary cause of UTIs is an inability to empty the bladder completely, which allows bacteria to flourish in the remaining concentrated urine.

With older men, if the prostate becomes enlarged, it becomes difficult to fully empty the bladder, which can lead to a UTI.

Kidney stones are also a risk factor, as is diabetes.

One of the more common causes in older men is catheterization during a hospital stay.

The CDC reports that “virtually all healthcare-associated UTIs are caused by instrumentation of the urinary tract,” i.e., catheterization, and that between 12-16 percent of all adults who are hospitalized will develop a UTI during their stay due to the procedure.

Symptoms and treatment

If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection, chances are you knew it fairly quickly. Sometimes, however, the symptoms are so slight the person doesn’t even know they have one. In that case, fatigue and just “not feeling well” might be the only symptoms.

Here are the most common signs of a UTI in men:

  • frequent urination
  • a strong and persistent urge to urinate
  • a burning or tingling sensation during or just after urination
  • trouble urinating
  • cloudy urine with a strong odor
  • blood in the urine
  • a low-grade fever
  • chills
  • pain or cramping in the groin or lower abdomen

If you have any of these symptoms, be sure to contact us as soon as possible. We’ll ask about your symptoms, perform a physical exam, and order urine tests if needed.

The standard treatment is an antibiotic. If caught early enough, an oral antibiotic taken for seven to 10 days is usually enough to knock it out. If it’s spread farther throughout the body, which was apparently the case in Clinton’s case, an IV antibiotic may be necessary.

Prevention

Doctors are concerned that the frequent use of antibiotics may contribute to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. So it’s best to take the following steps to prevent UTIs in the first place.

When you feel the urge to urinate, do so as soon as possible. It’s not “manly” to wait and can increase the chance of contracting a UTI. This is because a full bladder encourages the growth of infection-causing bacteria.

For the same reason, when you do urinate, take your time and empty your bladder as completely as possible.

Finally, drink plenty of water every day. This dilutes the urine, making it more difficult for the bacteria to concentrate in the bladder. It also helps flush the bacteria from the bladder. This is actually the best preventive measure. Studies have shown that those with a high water intake—at least six to eight glasses a day—experience far fewer UTIs than those with a lower intake.

Bonus: drinking a lot of water is also a good way to ward off kidney stones, another condition often seen in older men.

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