Lupus — a systemic autoimmune disease — weakens the immune system, making you more susceptible to infection, including recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs). The medications commonly used to treat lupus also lower the immune system and make it harder for your body to fight off infection. Therefore, if you have lupus, it helps to learn more about the problems, including the risk of infection, which are related to the disease.
Urinary tract infections, also known as bladder infections, generally occur in the lower urinary tract, affecting the bladder and urethra and the prostate in men. Although lupus does not directly cause inflammation of the urinary tract, it predisposes you to urinary tract infections. Consequently, UTI is often a complication of this connective tissue disease.
The side effects of certain lupus medications can cause symptoms similar to those of lupus nephritis, which is an inflammation of the kidney caused by lupus. Although lupus nephritis is different from kidney infections, if you have lupus kidney disease, you are even more prone to infections from which it can take you a long time to recover.
While there are various risk factors for UTI infections, because of an impaired immune system, you are at increased risk of infection if you live with lupus. However, there are certain factors that increase the risk of urinary tract infection even more.
The bacterium E. coli is a common cause of urinary infection, which can also bring on a lupus flare. E. coli is naturally found in the lower intestine. Sometimes the bacteria enter the urinary system through the urethra — the tube through which your bladder discharges urine to the outside of your body.
Once these bacteria are in the urinary system, they multiply. As they travel up the urinary tract, they cause inflammation.
Medications you take to relieve lupus symptoms, such as corticosteroids and other immunosuppressive drugs, suppress the immune system, increasing your susceptibility to infections. How much of these medications you take and how long you take them for are contributing factors.
While immunosuppressant drugs help alleviate symptoms of an autoimmune disease by preventing your immune system from attacking healthy tissues, they can potentially make you less resistant to infection. Therefore, while taking these medications, it is important to be extra-vigilant about the signs of potential infections.
Symptoms of urinary tract infections include a persistent urge to urinate, frequent urination, and a burning sensation when you void. Pelvic pressure, lower back pain, and painful urination are other symptoms you can experience. There may be blood in your urine, which can be strong or foul smelling. Your urine may also look darker in color and cloudy in appearance.
In some cases, the bacteria continue to travel up to the bladder and from there spread to one or both kidneys. When a UTI remains untreated, you may suffer additional symptoms, including tiredness, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and upper back pain, which are signs of kidney infection.
Doctors generally prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat a mild UTI that hasn’t developed complications. However, in many cases, treatment is difficult because medications you take to control your lupus symptoms make you more susceptible to bacterial infections.
To prevent possible complications, contact your doctor when symptoms first appear. An untreated urinary tract infection can lead to recurrent UTIs, chronic kidney infection, or sepsis — a serious blood infection that can be life-threatening.
If you have a severe UTI, you may require hospitalization so that a higher dose of antibiotics can be administered intravenously. To prevent future UTIs, your doctor may prescribe a low dose of antibiotics that you take daily over the long term to help prevent repeat infections.
Whether you have trouble urinating or suffer bladder discomfort, the physicians at University Urology PC can help.