When it comes to taking care of your health, asking questions never hurts. But is it always worth a visit to your doctor? We’re asking experts to weigh in on your burning questions—from feminine to general health and everything in between—so you can get advice from a pro before you go. The doctor will see you now.
Summer is on its way, which means lazy weekends by the pool, swimming in the ocean, and generally hanging out in a swimsuit—which also means a greater risk of developing a urinary tract infection.
Not only are UTIs the most common bacterial infection, but research also shows that women are significantly more likely to experience them than men. One study estimates that “by age 24, one-third of women will have at least one physician-diagnosed UTI that was treated with prescription medication.” Another reports that one-half of women will have a UTI in their lifetime.
Bacteria thrive in warm and moist environments that have environmental PH and oxygen levels that are similar to the human body—meaning the warm spring and summer days give more opportunities for UTIs to develop than at cooler, dryer times of the year. A UTI can become excruciatingly painful if not diagnosed and treated early. So what are UTI symptoms and what can you do about it? We asked resident expert Dr. A. Nicky Hjort, M.D., OB-GYN, to give us the info we need to keep your summer healthy, happy, and infection-free.
Q. What is a urinary tract infection?
Dr. Hjort explains, “The urinary tract consists of the bladder; the kidney tubes, which are also called ureters; and the kidneys themselves.” A UTI can be bacterial or viral and may occur in any of these areas. Most commonly, the infection is bacterial, and most often it’s in the bladder—in medical terminology, cystitis. Cases involving the kidney are typically much more serious (and also more common in older adults), and can result in sepsis (a life-threatening inflammatory response in the body) or death.
Q. What increases the risks of a UTI?
Dr. Hjort says even with the best hygiene, a woman’s anatomy makes it easy for her to get UTIs. Being in swimming pools, taking baths, wearing wet underwear or swimsuits, and dehydration are common causes of summertime UTIs, in particular. Dr. Hjort also says sex is a major contributor. As unromantic as it sounds, the best way to avoid a post-coital UTI is to use the bathroom soon after intercourse. In addition to urinating, Dr. Hjort recommends flushing with a cup of clear, warm water to keep the system clean. It's also worth noting that, because of changes in the urinary tract, women who are pregnant or have been pregnant are at an increased risk of UTIs.
Q. How do I know if I have a UTI?
Dr. Hjort says common UTI symptoms include urinary frequency (needing to go more often), urgency (you need to go right now), hesitancy (you try to go, but can’t), getting up to pee at night, pain while peeing, and blood or pus in the urine (it may not be obvious; you might only see pink on the tissue or in the toilet).
Q. How is a UTI treated?
The treatment is simple and common. Leaving a UTI unchecked, however, could lead to even more painful and dire circumstances. A course of antibiotics should do the trick, as long as there are not any additional complications, such as a high fever, chills, vomiting or severe lower back pain, which may indicate an infection in the kidneys.
Dr. Hjort says, “Most doctors will now prescribe a three-day course of antibiotics.” Because UTIs are so common, any medical doctor (general physician, ob-gyn, and so on) is capable of treating them. Dr. Hjort advises that your doctor should take a urine sample to confirm the diagnosis and confidently prescribe an antibiotic that is not resistant to your particular strain of bacteria.
If you experience more than three or four UTIs a year, Dr. Hjort recommends seeing a urologist (a bladder and kidney specialist) for closer observation.
Q. Any tips on how to prevent a UTI?
Dr. Hjort recommends drinking your recommended daily amount of water to stay hydrated (peeing flushes out bacteria), cleaning after intercourse, and always, always wiping down there from front to back (never back to front). If necessary, use wet wipes or a squeeze bottle of warm water outside your body for added cleanliness. And as much as that poolside chair or beach blanket beckons to you, avoid hanging out in a wet swimsuit for long. Change into dry underwear then you can lounge as long as you like.
UTI season needn't wheedle its way into your summer plans. With proper hygiene and putting Dr. Hjort's sound advice into action, you can enjoy every summer pastime without worrying about your next bathroom break.