Do you think you’d know the minute you have a urinary tract infection (UTI)? You may want to think again as it is not always the case. The causes, symptoms, and treatments of UTI can change dramatically with age.
Like a lot of people, you may have had to deal with an occasional urinary tract infection (UTI). Your symptoms could be obvious (pain, burning, and a persistent need to urinate) and easy enough to clear up with antibiotics, but you may discover that as you age and enter your 50’s and 60’s, your sporadic UTIs of your earlier years may return suddenly.
We tend to think of UTIs as a young women’s problem, but many women—and men—who have never or rarely been troubled can become prone at midlife. Understanding how your age changes your risk and the best approaches to treatment can help to bring life-changing relief.
Surprise UTI Sufferers: Men
UTIs are extremely uncommon in young males. So it can come as a huge surprise when men get one for the first time in their 50s, most often because of an enlarged prostate.
The prostate surrounds the urethra—the tube from the bladder through the penis—like a doughnut. A growing prostate compresses the urethra, causing a weak urine stream, the need to pee frequently, and a dribble after a void. If the bladder doesn’t completely empty, the reservoir of urine can become infected.
Some 5 to 10 percent of men who have an enlarged prostate experience repeat UTIs. Medication can relax muscles in the gland or shrink it so urine can pass easily. Minimally invasive procedures to relieve blockage or pressure can also help.
Why Women’s UTIs Get Worse
While blocked urethra can cause an upswing in UTIs in men, weakened pipe linings—a result of menopause—contribute to women’s increased risk of UTIs.
Prior to menopause, the oestrogen hormone keeps the lining of the urinary tract thick and healthy, producing germ-killing compounds and limiting the ability of infection-causing microbes to invade tissues.
As oestrogen levels decrease during menopause, the germ-fighting capability and physical barrier of the urinary tract weaken and the mix of bacteria in the vagina changes—all of which can increase the odds of developing UTIs.
Antibiotics treat acute infections, but other treatments may be necessary to prevent recurrences. Swedish researchers in 2013 reported that a few weeks of topical oestrogen treatment in postmenopausal women strengthened the urinary tract wall, making it less prone to infection.