Recent research indicates the warmer months might increase your risk of developing a UTI. Here's how to make sure you don't.
Ada, who asked us not to use her real name, knows the feeling all too well: that burning sensation when emptying her bladder and the nagging feeling of constantly needing to pee. The Whitby, Ont., occupational therapist is prone to bladder infections; she's had eight urinary tract infections (UTIs) in the past two years alone. Ada's not the only one: About 50 to 60 percent of women will have at least one UTI in their lives. And, after you've had one infection, there's a greater chance you'll develop another one in the future, says Dr. Dean Elterman, a urologic surgeon at Toronto Western Hospital.
UTIs are caused by bacteria in the bladder or in the rest of the urinary tract, and they're marked by a relentless urge to pee, painful urination and pelvic discomfort. There are plenty of triggers that can bring on an infection, says Dr. Elterman, such as using a diaphragm and vaginal douches. And one recent study, using data on male and female patients from 1998 to 2011, even found a seasonal spike—women under 40 were more prone to summertime UTIs, though this trend diminished with age.
Researchers don't know exactly what the relationship is between warmer weather and UTIs. "There are studies that suggest an association," says Dr. Ashley Cox, assistant professor of urology at Dalhousie University in Halifax. "But they don't confirm the reason why UTIs may be more common during the summer months."
It does seem likely that our warm-weather habits unintentionally up our risk, though—so here's what you can do to help avoid a UTI this season.
Hydrate: It's easy to become dehydrated in warmer weather, and drinking less can cause urine to become more concentrated, which could lead to a UTI, says Dr. Elterman. "People typically require about 1 1/2 to two litres of fluid per day on average, and that includes beverages, soup, fruit and veggies," he says.
Stay dry: If you're prone to UTIs, sitting around in a wet swimsuit or sweaty workout wear won't do you any favours. This uncomfortable habit provides a moist breeding ground for bacteria—and, particularly, yeast—to multiply, so you're not just increasing your risk of a UTI; it may also cause skin irritation or a yeast infection.
Make sure to empty your bladder after sex: Truth be told, some of us have more sex during the summer, and that can increase your chances of getting a UTI. According to Dr. Elterman, having more sex, being with a new partner, using a different brand of condoms or spermicide or using new lubrication could all contribute to developing a UTI. To reduce the risk, he recommends urinating immediately after intercourse to flush out bacteria before it moves up into the bladder. Women who suffer from sex-related UTIs can also ask their health-care providers about a self-start antibiotics program, Dr. Cox says. (This involves a doctor writing a prescription that can be filled in the future, when you first notice the symptoms of a UTI.)
Practise good hygiene: No matter the season, it's a good rule of thumb to avoid using scented bath products, soaps and vaginal douches, and to wipe from front to back when you go to the bathroom, says Dr. Elterman. If you notice a specific trigger, avoid it. And if you do wind up with a UTI, don't worry: It won't ruin your summer. The infection, once treated with antibiotics by a doctor, only lasts a few days (though the uncomfortable symptoms may last up to a week).