Preventing Summer UTIs

By Carissa Wright,
As summer kicks into gear and the temperature rises, our lifestyles become more and more active. Days on the beach or at a theme park are fun and exciting. The last thing any of us needs is a Urinary Tract Infection to deal with while we're trying to enjoy ourselves with friends and family. But unfortunately, it appears that women are more prone to UTIs, especially in the summer.

To get some answers, we enlisted the help of two doctors -- Dr. Trevor Holly Cates, a naturopathic physician, and Dr. Ama Brobbey, a Medical Director at Health Care Partners of Nevada -- to help us learn why females typically have more difficulty with UTIs, and what we can do to deal with and prevent discomfort.

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What is a UTI?

The actual medical term that encompasses the majority of UTIs is cystitis, or infection of the bladder. These infections are caused by bacteria, such as E. Coli (which Dr. Cates cites as the cause of 70-95% of bladder infections). Females can spread the wrong kind of bacteria by simply wiping incorrectly when using the bathroom. The most common symptoms of a UTI include strong and frequent urges to urinate, pain or burning when urinating, or urine tinged with blood.

Summer Stressors

Women are at higher risk of contracting a UTI during the summer months. Dr. Cates and Dr. Brobbey point out four specific sources to be mindful of when you're having fun in the sun.

Dehydration can help to create the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive in your urinary tract. Because dehydration leads to less urination, says Dr. Cates, your urinary tract is flushed less frequently, increasing the potential for bad bacteria to grow and settle in.

Swimming is usually the perfect way to cool off on an unbearably hot summer day, but it also poses a slight danger to the health of your urinary tract. Dr. Brobbey points out that bathing suits can potentially irritate the urethra because they are not breathable like cotton, and harbor warm, moist environments that encourage bacteria growth. Dr. Cates agrees.

"Most of the time our bodies do a good job of warding off the bacteria but occasionally women end up with UTIs after a swim," says Dr. Cates.

Fragrances found in the various products you may use to maintain hygiene could also irritate your urethra, causing discomfort and sometimes infection. It is important to be mindful of the perfumes, body washes, or other personal products you use daily.

Traveling, according to Dr. Brobbey, can pose an indirect threat to the health of your urinary tract.

"When traveling, be careful to use proper hygiene when using public toilets," she explains. "Wash hands before as well as after using the bathroom."

Answering with Antibiotics

The most important factor is paying attention to your body. Many women feel as though they can take care of a UTI at home. The reality is that if left improperly treated, this seemingly small infection can lead to much larger problems.

"If left untreated, the bladder infection could spread to her kidneys causing kidney infection and kidney failure. It could also spread to her blood, which can be very dangerous," warns Dr. Brobbey.

It's important to have your doctor evaluate your condition to confirm any diagnosis and prescribe treatment. Antibiotics are a sure-fire way to get rid of a diagnosed UTI fast. If your symptoms do not alleviate after you've taken antibiotics for two days, Dr. Brobbey stresses that it is incredibly important to return to your doctor, to avoid further complications. You should also see your doctor if you experience additional symptoms such as fever, blood in your urine, general weakness, or abdominal pain with nausea and vomiting.

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Natural Relief

Dr. Cates is a naturopathic physician, which means she has studied and employs holistic, natural approaches when it comes to the health of her patients. She recommends three natural remedies.

Cranberry juice is a widely-debated at-home remedy for a simple UTI. Results of recent scientific studies have been mixed about its effectiveness in treating and/or preventing UTIs. Dr. Brobbey says that some of these studies have been limited by design, and believes that cranberry juice may not help everyone, but in some cases it provides symptomatic relief.

Dr. Cates endorses the use of cranberry juice.

"Cranberry works by preventing E. Coli from adhering to the bladder walls," Dr. Cates points out.

She suggests that women drink cranberry juice daily, or take an encapsulated cranberry concentrate supplement to help curb the risk of getting a UTI. But, she warns, if you prefer juice, be sure that it is 100% juice and low in sugar, to aid in bacteria killing potential.

Dr. Cates also recommends Vitamin C for women who find themselves with recurring UTIs. She suggests at least 4,000 mg of vitamin C per day to keep the bacteria away.

"[Vitamin C] creates an increase in the acidity of the urine, which will lead to an environment difficult for infection-causing bacteria to live," she says.

Probiotics, many of which can be found in your local drug store, is #3 on Dr. Cates list.

"You see them advertised in the media for colon health," Dr. Brobbey explains. "they can also help the vagina maintain its own bacteria, which help maintain the acidity in the region to stop the UTI-causing bacteria from growing."

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Preventative Measures

Taking measures to prevent UTIs go hand in hand with maintaining good health.

Good hygiene is at the very top of the list. When you use the restroom, Dr. Brobbey suggests it's good to use a toilet cover and, of course, wipe from front to back so that you don't spread bacteria to places it shouldn't be. Also, we all know, showers are a must.

"Shower regularly," says Dr. Cates, "since hot weather and hot bodies can create an environment for bacterial growth."

Avoid perfumed products, and try to wear cotton underwear.

If you engage in sexual intercourse, be sure to use the bathroom immediately following, so any bacteria that might have entered the urinary tract can be ushered out.

While it's always important to use protection, Dr. Brobbey advises against diaphragms or condoms with spermicide in them, especially if you've had multiple UTIs.

Other easy preventative measures Dr. Cates suggests include drinking plenty of clean water, refraining from consuming too much alcohol (which can suppress your body's ability to fight against bacteria), and trying to limit how much sugar you consume daily.

Most of all, always take care of yourself.

"More than a quarter of women with UTIs will have a recurrence within six months if they're not careful, so it's important to keep these tips in mind."

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