Actor Tanya Roberts, known for her role in the James Bond film “A View to a Kill” and in “That ’70s Show,” died on Monday at age 65 after being in the hospital for a few days. Her representative told People that her cause of death “was from a urinary tract infection which spread to her kidney, gallbladder, liver and then blood stream.”
UTIs are an extremely common issue that affects about 1 in 5 women in their lifetime; the infection can also occur in men. It’s estimated that 8 million to 10 million doctors’ visits each year are for UTIs, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
The news is incredibly sad, as well as alarming for many who consider UTIs as just an inevitable part of life. When does a UTI become life-threatening and what should you look out for? Here’s what you should know.
A urinary tract infection can spread to other parts of the body.
First, a little primer on how UTIs happen: Bacteria gets into the urinary system, which includes the kidneys and the bladder. This typically happens through the urethra (the duct where urine leaves the body). The bacteria then begins to multiply once in the system, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The infection is most often seen or located in the bladder, but it can happen in any part of the urinary tract.
In some cases ― particularly if left untreated ― the infection can spread to the kidneys or other parts of the body, and sometimes make its way into the bloodstream. Complications from this can include permanent kidney damage. It can also lead to sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication. As part of the process of responding to an infection, the body releases chemicals into the blood stream to fight it off. Sepsis can occur when the body’s response to those chemicals becomes “out of balance,” according to the Mayo Clinic. This can result in damage to your organs.
There are different symptoms depending on where the infection is in the urinary tract.
Symptoms of the infection can vary, and it might not be obvious that you have a UTI (particularly if you’re not used to getting one).
If the UTI is affecting the kidneys, you may experience flank or side pain. You might also come down with a fever, nausea or vomiting. Bladder-based UTIs include pressure in the lower pelvis or abdominal discomfort. You might also notice changes to your urine, including blood in the urine and pain when peeing. Red flags that the infection is affecting the urethra are burning with urination and discharge.
Other signs of a UTI may include bladder leakage, an increased frequency in urination and cloudy or foul-smelling urine. UTIs can also cause mental confusion, fatigue and pain during sex.
See a physician if you’re experiencing any of these issues. And if you’re experiencing fever, vomiting or confusion, it might be best to seek emergency care. If you are diagnosed with a UTI, a doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.
You can also reduce your risk through healthy habits and going to annual checkups.
Don’t panic. If you have a UTI, that doesn’t mean your life is immediately in danger ― people shouldn’t, and commonly do not, die from the infection ― but it does need to be addressed.
Aside from treating the acute infection, pay attention to your urinary health overall. This includes going to your annual doctor’s appointments, like the gynecologist or your primary care provider. Examinations and urine tests taken at these checkups can show if there’s something amiss.
You should also practice healthy habits at home to prevent UTIs. Experts recommend peeing after sex to flush out any potential bacteria. Make a habit of wiping from front to back after using the bathroom. It’s also smart to drink plenty of water. Drinking cranberry juice may also help (that method isn’t backed up by sufficient scientific evidence, but it also doesn’t hurt, either). If you get frequent UTIs, consider switching your birth control method or the period products you use.
Finally, talk with your doctor if anything is bothering you outside of your annual appointments. You know your body better than anyone and it’s important to take care of it.