My UTI nearly killed me

Urinary tract infections are common and usually easy to treat, but in some cases, they can progress into more serious infections. Sophia Waterfield spotted a key symptom just in time

I was lying in a hospital bed with a drip in my arm when I was told what was going on by a consultant. “We’re treating you for urosepsis,” she said.

It took me a moment to register what she was saying. “You mean…like poisoning of the blood?” I asked.

“Yes, but from a urinary tract infection (UTI),” she explained. It wasn’t the news I was expecting to hear and if I said I wasn’t scared, I would be lying. My UTI, something I had experienced since I was a teenager, was killing me.

The symptoms of a UTI vary from person to person and while anyone can get them, they are more common in women. Symptoms include pain or stinging when you pass urine, needing to urinate more often or more urgently than normal, or feeling like you need to pee again soon after going to the toilet.

Urosepsis is when the bacteria that caused the UTI infects the bloodstream, and if untreated, it can be deadly. Symptoms can include a fever, back pain, decreased urine output, breathing difficulties, and nausea and vomiting. According to the NHS, sepsis, including urosepsis, in serious cases can cause septic shock, which results in your body’s organs shutting down.1,2

“You’re having too much sex,” one nurse said to me. This advice often meant I was too scared to have sex with my partner, for fear of weeks of excruciating pain

But I didn’t know that it was possible to get sepsis from a UTI — nobody had ever told me.

Since the age of 18, I have suffered from UTIs. In one six-month period, I had contracted 10 infections. Each time, I was given antibiotics by my family doctor but the symptoms returned.

I also had to endure the shame that comes with seeking treatment for a UTI. “You’re having too much sex,” one nurse said to me. This advice often meant I was too scared to have sex with my partner, for fear of weeks of excruciating pain. I was also told it was all psychosomatic (all in my head) and that I was imagining the issue.

Between the ages of 18 and 21, I can’t remember a month where I didn’t have a UTI. I would be crying on the toilet as I tried to pass urine, feeling constipated and embarrassed. I had referrals for kidney scans and eventually surgery that stretched my urethra, to improve urine flow. But the urges to pee remained, even though they weren’t as severe. I was just thankful that the pain had stopped.

But fast forward 10 years and the pain returned, but this time it was like nothing I had ever known before.

He called an ambulance, but they refused to come as they didn’t believe it was serious enough

The UTI came on during my period and I instantly went to the pharmacy to get painkillers and potassium citrate sachets — what you’re recommended to get when you first get symptoms. But by the third day of the UTI, I was sitting on the toilet crying into my then-partner’s shoulder as I couldn’t pass any urine, was constipated and had lower back pain.

He called an ambulance, but they refused to come as they didn’t believe it was serious enough.

By the fifth day, I started waking up in the middle of the night sweating and shivering. I had never experienced anything like it before and I went to see a nurse at my local walk-in centre. She tested my urine and explained that I had a UTI — which I already knew — and gave me antibiotics.

The nurse also noted that my temperature was higher than normal and recommended I continue to take painkillers to keep it down. In all honesty, I just assumed I had caught a nasty cold.

But two days later, my condition worsened. Painkillers couldn’t keep my temperature down — it reached 40 degrees celsius even with taking paracetamol and ibuprofen — and I was still struggling to pass urine, even though I was drinking regularly. My chest also felt tight and it was a struggle to breathe normally. But again, I assumed it was a chest infection.

When I had my son, I was put under a consultant’s care in case I developed urosepsis in pregnancy — for once in my life, I felt like doctors were taking my UTIs seriously

Then, I noticed I had a rash on my arm and I immediately called an ambulance.

However, when they arrived the rash had gone — to this day, I’m not sure if I imagined it or not. The paramedics were more concerned about my temperature and as a precautionary measure, they took me to the local hospital.

I was put on a drip while in A&E and after several hours moved onto a ward. Still shivering, I asked for more blankets to keep me warm but nothing seemed to work.

Then the consultant came to see me. She listened to my symptoms and suggested I stay in for a number of days for treatment. When I asked her what she was treating me for, she explained it was urosepsis.

Thankfully, with antibiotics and fluids I recovered and was sent home to rest. When I had my son, I was put under a consultant’s care in case I developed urosepsis in pregnancy — for once in my life, I felt like doctors were taking my UTIs seriously.

Interestingly, one of the symptoms for urosepsis is the inability to think clearly. It fills me with dread to think what would have happened if I hadn’t seen the disappearing rash — I might not have made it.

Featured image is an outline illustration of a woman lying in a hospital bed, wearing a hospital gown. The background is a pale blue/grey colour, and there is only a slight amount of shading on her outline so as to indicate a light source. The picture has a pensive and gloomy feel to it

Page last updated December 2020

Sophia Waterfield

Sophia Waterfield is a freelance journalist covering subjects such as technology, healthcare, social affairs and lifestyle. She has written for outlets such as Newsweek, Forbes.com, Wired UK, New Scientist and Metro UK. Based in the UK, Sophia lives outside of York with her son and two dogs.

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References

  1. NHS inform, Sepsis, NHS Inform Scotland, February 2020 [online] [accessed 16 December 2020]
  2. NHS inform, Septic shock, NHS Inform Scotland, February 2020, [online] [accessed 16 December 2020]

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