How A Simple UTI Morphed Into A Life-Threatening Illness

Something so simple could have ended my life, because I trusted an over-the-counter medication.

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A few weeks ago, I ended up with the second UTI I’ve ever had in my life. I’m not sure if I’m just lucky or just have good anatomy, but somehow, even with having a lot of sex, I’ve only ever ended up with one UTI prior to this monster of an infection. 

UTIs are common in women, 25–40% of women in the US have had one and they account for 7 million patient visits to physicians per year.

Funny enough, my symptoms never traditionally presented as a UTI: I never had burning while urinating, never had an urgency to pee or any pain.


Until suddenly, I did.

At that point, I honestly thought I had tweaked my back doing something else, and went in to see my physician because my lower back pain had become so unbearable.

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Turns out, I didn't do anything to my back, other than allow a minor bladder infection to morph into a serious kidney infection.

The back pain I was experiencing was really kidney pain. Luckily, it hadn’t gotten to the point of needing IV antibiotics. I was sent home with pain medication and oral antibiotics and told to follow up within three days to check my urine and blood work to ensure the infection didn’t get into my blood.


I rode out of a serious hurricane of massive pain and vowed to listen to my body a little better from then on.

I followed all the instructions, drank plenty of water, and after the prescribed three days of treatment, I felt better.

Until I didn’t. I never ran a fever, not for a moment. But about ten days after my initial symptoms appeared, I felt horrible. I had chills, full body shakes, a pink tinge when I wiped after using the bathroom, and severe pain in my lower abdomen.

I went straight to the emergency room.

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The nurse couldn’t believe I wasn’t running a fever. She said she would be shocked if I wasn’t septic.


She wasn’t shocked: I was septic.

The over-the-counter medication (AZO for those following along at home) did nothing but numb my urinary tract and essentially trick my body into thinking I was better, while the infection moved further along the urinary tract and got worse.

While my body thought I was getting better, I was actually getting worse.

After talking with multiple nurses and doctors, I learned there are no products on the market today, available over the counter, that can truly take care of a UTI.

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In order to cure a UTI, antibiotics are required, which need a prescription. Products like AZO and Uristat can help manage symptoms in the interim, but you need to get to your doctor as soon as possible to get proper treatment before a simple infection morphs into something a lot more serious — like what happened to me.


Three days in the hospital cost a lot more than a quick trip to the doctor and could have potentially been a lot more serious than it was.

What started out as a simple UTI became septicemia, which is a life-threatening illness.

Your anatomy can be one reason you’re prone to UTIs, and there’s not much you can do in that case beyond being careful about always wiping from front to back (which every woman should do!) and urinating after sex.


Good hygiene and drinking plenty of water are the easiest ways to avoid UTIs in the first place, but if you end up with one anyway, be sure to see your doctor as soon as possible and get proper treatment.

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Demeter Delune is an educator who writes on sexuality, relationships, and love.