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Tanya Roberts' death was caused by a UTI: Here's how that can happen

After the news initially broke that Roberts died Sunday night, spokespeople later confirmed that she died Monday from a urinary tract infection.
/ Source: TODAY

Bond girl and "That '70s Show" star Tanya Roberts died Monday night at age 65 after being hospitalized for a non-COVID-19 related illness, TODAY previously confirmed. On Tuesday, Roberts' longtime partner, Lance O'Brien, told TODAY that she had been hospitalized for a urinary tract infection that spread to her kidneys and gallbladder, which played a role in her death.

Urinary tract infections are the most common type of outpatient infection, with 50-60% of adult women developing at least one in their lifetime, according to recent research published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Urology. What's much less common, however, is dying from a urinary tract infection, Dr. Kameelah Phillips, an OB-GYN at Calla Women's Health in New York City, told TODAY.

"People don't die from an uncomplicated UTI," she explained. "People die from ... complications of a UTI, which is called sepsis. That's when the bacteria that cause a bladder infection actually spreads into the bloodstream. And when it spreads into the bloodstream, it can cause what we call multisystem organ failure, and that can lead to death."

How can a UTI lead to sepsis?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sepsis is the body's extreme response to an infection. A simple infection can trigger a "chain reaction" in the body, and without treatment, sepsis can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death.

With UTIs in particular, "the amount of bacteria (can) overwhelm the bladder system, and the bacteria leaves the bladder and enters the blood chain because you have blood vessels that run through your bladder," Phillips explained. The amount of bacteria can make this more likely to occur, as can the type of bacteria. Some types are more prone than others to leave the urinary system, Phillips said.

Tanya Roberts died after being hospitalized for a urinary tract infection that spread to her kidneys and gallbladder, her longtime partner told TODAY.Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

UTIs that lead to sepsis, a condition called urosepsis, are more common in older adults, Phillips said.

In part, that can be because older adults may be asymptomatic and go untreated for longer, she explained.

"Older people tend to have less strong immune systems," Phillips added, and underlying health conditions. "(This) can also impact your body's response to treatment ... and make it harder for you to recover from symptoms sometimes," she said.

It's "not very common" for a UTI to lead to sepsis, according to Phillips.

"Women shouldn't be afraid that their average UTI is going to kill them," she stressed. "(But) it teaches us that we shouldn't ignore UTI symptoms and should go to the doctor. If you think you have symptoms, have your urine checked as opposed to just ignoring it or trying to treat it over the counter."

It's important to be aware of UTI symptoms, which can include:

  • Pain or burning while urinating
  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling the need to go to the bathroom despite an empty bladder
  • Bloody urine
  • Pressure or cramping in the groin

Roberts' rep initially told media outlets that she had died on Sunday night, but news broke on Monday morning that Roberts was still alive. Her rep later confirmed that she died on Monday night.

Roberts was best known for playing Stacey Sutton in the 1985 James Bond film “A View to a Kill” and Midge Pinciotti on “That ’70s Show” between 1998 and 2004.