Actress Tanya Roberts, who starred in the TV sitcom That ’70s Show and the 1985 James Bond movie A View to Kill, has died at age 65 from a urinary tract infection (UTI) that spread to other parts of her body.
Benjamin Brucker, MD, director of the Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery Program at NYU Langone Health, tells Health:
“UTI, also known as cystitis when it’s limited to the bladder, is the second most common type of infection in the US, according to the Urology Care Foundation. About 10 in 25 women and 3 in 25 men will have symptoms of a UTI during their lifetime. And while you can get a UTI at any age, they’re more common in older people.
In most cases, when we talk about a UTI we are talking about an infection of the bladder or a condition called acute bacterial cystitis. This is what classically causes burning with urination (dysuria), frequency, and urgency of urination.”
When caught early, a UTI is normally very easy to treat (with antibiotics if it’s a bacterial infection, or antifungal meds if it’s a fungal infection). If a doctor suspects that the infection has spread, they may send the patient for additional tests, such as blood tests, kidney scans, or an ultrasound.
In some cases, the immune system can have a very strong reaction to an infection. This is known as sepsis, and it usually manifests with fever, shaking chills, and very low blood pressure, Dr. Brucker says.
“If the infection that causes sepsis starts in the urinary tract, we often call this uro-sepsis,” he explains. “This means what might have started in the urinary tract is now having an effect all over the body. When the bacteria spreads to other parts of the body during uro-sepsis, the bacteria growing in the urinary tract can be found in the bloodstream. As this bacteria travels through the blood and body, the body’s inflammatory response, as well as the toxins that the bacteria can release, leads to dysfunction of our vital organs. When these organs start to fail, this is what ultimately can lead to a patient’s demise.”
While it is possible for a UTI to result in sepsis and become fatal, it’s not common. “Death is not the normal outcome from something like cystitis or an uncomplicated bladder infection,” Dr. Brucker says. In rare cases, bacteria that gets into the urinary tract or urinary bladder will spread to the kidney or the bloodstream.
“This may relate to patient factors, such as genetics and other medical conditions, as well as the type and strain of bacteria,” Dr. Brucker says. Some patients, like the elderly or those with urinary system blockages like kidney stones, are more likely to develop sepsis.
By Claire Gillespie for Health©