Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the most common infections people experience. Almost half of women will have at least one UTI in their lives, and many men experience them too. UTIs come with a lot of different symptoms, but can a UTI cause a seizure? Let’s find out about the possible links between UTIs and epilepsy.
What is a UTI?
A UTI happens when bacteria gets into the tube where your pee comes out (called the urethra). If the bacteria spreads up this tube, it can get into your bladder or kidneys, and cause an infection.
UTIs are often mild, but they can be serious, so it’s important to get them treated.
Symptoms of a UTI include:
- Needing to pee very urgently
- Needing to pee more than usual
- Cloudy urine
- Urine with a strong smell
- Blood in your pee
- Pain in your stomach or lower back
- A high temperature
- Or, a very low temperature
If you (or someone you care for) have symptoms of a UTI, it’s important to visit your doctor. They may treat the UTI with antibiotics and provide a painkiller. Sometimes, a UTI will go away on its own.
You can reduce your chances of getting a UTI by:
- Always wiping from front to back after doing a poo
- Avoid holding your pee in
- Drinking enough water and avoiding dehydration
- Going for a pee as soon as possible after having sex
- Keep your genital area clean and dry
- Quickly changing your baby’s diapers when they become soiled
- Some people find that drinking cranberry juice every day makes UTIs less likely to happen
Can UTIs cause seizures?
Potentially, yes. There is some evidence which suggests there could be a link between UTIs and epilepsy. Here are some of the ways it could happen:
- UTIs can cause fevers
Many people with epilepsy find that they have more seizures when they have a high temperature. So, it seems likely that a UTI can cause a seizure in adults and children who have epilepsy if they get a high temperature.
- UTIs and febrile seizures
There does seem to be a clear link between UTIs and febrile seizures in children (a febrile seizure is a non-epileptic seizure caused by high temperatures). One study found that among children who had febrile seizures, just over 15% had a UTI.
- UTIs during pregnancy
Another study found that women who had a UTI during pregnancy were slightly more likely to have children who developed epilepsy.
Related: Women and epilepsy - what you need to know
Links between UTIs, medication and seizures
Besides the UTI itself triggering seizures, it’s also important to think about how medication might interact with epilepsy and infections.
Several studies have found a link between certain anti-epilepsy drugs and UTIs. In particular, phenytoin, primidone, carbamazepine and valproate (among others), all seem to increase people’s chances of getting a UTI. If you notice you’ve started having more UTIs since taking these treatments, speak with your doctor.
It’s also important to remember that some antibiotics can make your anti-epilepsy drugs less effective - and that could cause a breakthrough seizure. So, if a doctor or pharmacist recommends antibiotics to treat a UTI, make sure to tell them which AEDs you’re taking.
UTIs and epilepsy
Although UTIs often pass on their own, it’s always a good idea to see your doctor as soon as you notice symptoms. Evidence does suggest that UTIs can cause seizures, and there are several ways epilepsy drugs, antibiotics and other factors could interact - so it’s important to take action. If you have any doubts, talk to your treatment team for more advice.