A UTI can cause a life threatening infection if it spreads. 

When a UTI occurs in older people, it won’t cause typical symptoms and thus, can spread throughout the body before the individual even knows it.

According to various news outlets, Madonna was recently hospitalized in the ICU for a “bacterial infection.”

However, it’s certainly possible that this infection could have started in Madonna’s urinary tract.

She’s 64, and despite her high level of fitness, this near-senior age begs the speculation:

The singer may have had a UTI that went unnoticed — because in older people, it does not cause the very hard-to-ignore physical symptoms.

In people of senior age, a UTI typically causes only cognitive symptoms rather than burning with urination, a frequent need to urinate and pain in the bladder area.

But the age cutoff for which a UTI would produce only cognitive changes is not clearly defined, says Michael Ingber, MD, board certified in urology, female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, and founder of The Center for Specialized Women’s Health, division of Garden State Urology.

“This is highly variable,” he says, in an article I interviewed him for about the age cutoff when urinary tract infections cause cognitive and not physical symptoms.

“In general, children and the elderly who have UTI’s may have atypical symptoms,” says Dr. Ingber, “including generalized abdominal pain, diarrhea, and in the elderly, confusion or mental status changes.”

If Madonna, indeed, had a UTI, it’s quite possible that at her age (just one year shy of being considered “elderly”), her only symptoms were mental status changes.

Mental status changes from a UTI could get mistaken for the mental fog of stress, especially if someone is preparing for a world tour, as was in Madonna’s case.

The mental status changes from a urinary tract infection wouldn’t necessarily be dramatic, either.

When my mother began exhibiting some mental fog (over age 65), we took her to her primary care physician.

Though my mother had not reported any discomfort related to urination, increased urgency, pelvic pain or back pain, her doctor immediately suspected that a UTI was behind the rather sudden-onset of mild cognitive impairment.

A urinalysis confirmed the presence of a bacterial infection; she was prescribed antibiotics; the mental status change cleared up almost immediately.

“There is no real age cutoff,” says Dr. Ingber in the original article, “but we practitioners typically just want to be cognizant of these concerns.”

It’s not a far leap to speculate that with all the hustle and bustle of preparing for a world tour, any mental fog that Madonna may have experienced simply went unnoticed or attributed to stress – all while a stealthy UTI was spreading to her kidneys and beyond.

Entertainers with grueling schedules have been known to ignore new symptoms, blaming them on stress, poor diet or physical demands.

Many people of elderly age “write off complaints and don’t come in [to see a doctor] until it’s too late,” says Dr. Ingber in another article about elderly people and UTI’s for which I interviewed him.

Sometimes, by the time an older person comes to the emergency room, “they are already septic,” continues Dr. Ingber.

We tend not to see entertainers such as Madonna, complete with a buff body and dancing on stage, as “elderly,” even though they’re in their 60s, even 70s.

As more news is disclosed about Madonna’s crisis “health scare,” it’ll be intriguing to learn just what the nature was of her reported bacterial infection.

Dr. Ingber is board-certified in Urology and Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery; is a Fellow of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health. The Center for Specialized Women’s Health, division of Garden State Urology & Atlantic Medical Group.
(973) 537-5557
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. 


Top image: chrisweger, CC BY-SA 2.0/creativecommons.org/Wikimedia Commons