This is the third installment of our blog series, “The Top Five Reasons People Call the Nurse Advice Line.” Read our introductory blog post and the article on the fifth most common reason why people call in, fevers and chills.
According to Health Dialog’s analysis, urinary problems are the fourth most common reason why people call our Nurse Advice Line. There can be a range of symptoms, such as frequent urination, pain, discoloration or strong odors, and the cause can range from something easily treated at home to a sign of more serious illness or injury. Young children can’t always explain the problems they are experiencing and older children or adults may be embarrassed and not want to talk about their symptoms.
Urine can change in color or odor from certain foods or medicines that we ingest, such as blackberries, beets, rhubarb, asparagus, Vitamin B or antibiotics, like penicillin. In these cases, there is no need for medical attention. However, darker colored urine could be from dehydration and a sweet, fruity odor could be a sign of uncontrolled diabetes.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common urinary related issue. This includes both bladder and kidney infections, which are part of the urinary tract. UTIs can occur in babies through adults and are most common in females, with an estimated 50% of women experiencing a bladder infection in their lifetime. A UTI occurs from bacteria in the bladder or kidneys. Kidney infections are less frequent, but more serious than bladder infections. Other types of UTIs include prostatitis and epididymitis, which are infections in men, and urethritis, a sexually transmitted infection.
Symptoms of a UTI are a burning feeling when urinating, frequent or urgent needs to urinate without passing much urine, feeling like you can’t completely empty your bladder, pain in the flank (below the rib cage and above the waist on one or both sides of the back), fever, blood in the urine, strong or bad smelling urine, leaking urine, or nausea and vomiting. If you only have one symptom or if your symptoms are not severe, it can be harder to figure out the problem and other issues can have similar symptoms, such as dehydration. Additionally, children have small bladders and may urinate more frequently, particularly when drinking a lot of fluids.
Kidney stones are another common urinary problem that can cause mild to severe pain and may or may not require medical intervention to pass. They are more common in men aged 20 to 30 years old, but anyone can get kidney stones at any age. As people age, other urinary problems that can occur, such as incontinence or trouble urinating due to an enlarged prostate. Additionally, an injury, such as getting hit in the back or genital area, can cause trouble urinating or blood in the urine and should be checked by a doctor.
Nurse Advice Line Discreetly Assesses Urinary Problems
As mentioned, urinary problems can be embarrassing, particularly because they can be related to sexual activity. Members might not want to go see a doctor if it turns out the issue is just something they ate or a lack of fluids, yet it is important to seek care for all UTIs, as antibiotics are needed to clear the infection. If timely treatment is not sought, the infection can progress to something more serious, potentially leading to a hospital stay, particularly in older adults. Our Nurse Advice Line offers a discreet way for members to get their symptoms assessed and determine the appropriate level of care. Our Health Coaches also provide guidance on making the person more comfortable and what signs to look for if the problem is not resolving and needs additional treatment.
Helping Members Get the Right Care at the Right Time
Following are two real-life examples of calls to our Nurse Advice Line about UTIs, one where the member needed to seek immediate attention and one where the member could be treated at home.
Member Needs Immediate Care
A 50-year-old female called the Nurse Advice Line reporting blood in her urine, difficulty urinating and severe flank pain. Additionally, the caller mentioned she had recently had intercourse, which can lead to a UTI. The Health Coach reviewed her symptoms and recommended that the member seek care within the next hour, as it could develop into a more severe kidney infection or even sepsis if not treated immediately. Older women are more likely to develop more severe infections from UTIs that require hospitalization if not treated immediately. Since it was late in the evening, the member went to the emergency department and was diagnosed with a UTI. She was able to get treatment immediately to prevent the infection from worsening. On a follow-up call, the Health Coach reviewed information on the antibiotic and possible side effects, as well as symptoms to monitor for that would indicate a follow up is needed with the member’s provider. In this case, the caller was able to get the treatment she needed and a potential costly hospital stay was avoided.
Treating Member at Home
A 31-year-old female member called the Nurse Advice Line reporting that she had been diagnosed with a UTI the day before and started on antibiotics, but was not feeling any better, was running a low-grade fever, vomiting, feeling weak and experiencing flank pain. The Health Coach reviewed the side effects of the antibiotics and how to manage them at home, as well as symptoms to monitor for that would indicate the infection was progressing and the member would need to call her doctor. On a follow-up call the next day, the member reported that the medication was working and she was feeling better. With the help of her Health Coach, the member was able to treat her condition at home, as she wanted, without additional healthcare visits.
Urinary problems are a sensitive issue. Offering your members a 24/7 nurse advice line can provide a more comfortable setting for them to discuss their symptoms and receive guidance on how to obtain appropriate and possibly cost-effective care.
In the next installment of our blog series “The Top Five Reasons People Call the Nurse Advice Line,” we will discuss respiratory problems and how our Nurse Advice Line can help members with these issues.