Sometimes our bodies throw us curveballs, and those curveballs affect the status of our vagina and suddenly, nothing feels right. I'm talking about getting a dreaded urinary tract infection, which is one of the most common bacterial infections. When a UTI comes to your downtown, so does the overwhelming feeling of being incredibly uncomfortable while you're peeing or having sex.
But did you know that one trigger for getting UTIs is your very own stress level? "We are more likely to get UTIs when we're stressed," says Jenna Ryan, the CEO of Uqora, a drink mix for women who suffer from recurrent UTIs. "Generally, our bodies have a tougher time fighting off infections of all kinds when we're stressed. This is certainly true of UTIs, too — our bodies struggle to flush out UTI-causing bacteria more when we're stressed and our immune system is compromised than when we're feeling healthy."
While stress itself can't cause a UTI, not taking proper care of yourself while you're stressed to the max can. "Having a lot of stress can lead to high cortisol levels, and when cortisol is high, the immune system doesn't work as well," says Dr. Allison Hill, OB-GYN at Los Angeles Obstetricians & Gynecologists. "Stress can also lead to a neglect of healthy hygiene habits."
So if you find your stress levels are rising, it might be time to get proactive about how you're handling your health and hygiene so you can prevent a spur-of-the-moment UTI. Here are three ways to help you prevent a stress-induced UTI.
It might be easy to grab a sugary soft drink or a couple of cups of coffee when you find yourself with a long to-do list and a lot going on. But Dr. Hill recommends staying hydrated when you're extra busy to help with UTI prevention.
"Drinking adequate amounts of water will flush bad bacteria out of the urinary tract or urethra when urinating. By doing so, you prevent the bacteria from multiplying and making their way into the bladder," says Dr. Hill.
Slow Down in the Bathroom
When you're juggling a lot of things at once, your personal hygiene can become the first thing you forfeit to make time for everything. Dr. Hill suggests slowing down in the bathroom and paying attention to how you wipe.
"Clean yourself from front to back when going to the restroom," says Dr. Hill. "By following this motion, you'll reduce the amount of bacteria that may creep its way into the vagina from the rectum and ultimately into the urinary tract.
Skip the Sexy Undergarments
One easy way to prevent a possible UTI is just by wearing breathable undergarments. Dr. Hill's recommendation is to ditch the lace for cotton.
"It may be a surprise to some women, but your clothes and underwear (especially those you wear to the gym) can affect your health and may increase the chance of infection," says Dr. Hill. "When we exercise, moisture builds up in our groin, vaginal, and rectal areas, and this moisture makes it easier for bacteria to grow. Therefore, opt for cotton underwear that doesn't suffocate you whether you're at work or while working out, and change out of tight-fitting or damp workout clothes immediately after a sweat session."
If you have a UTI, you'll want to treat your symptoms as soon as possible. Michelle Pettit, a wellness specialist with Just Energy, recommends taking ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory as an easy solution to curb urinary tract discomfort, as well as taking probiotics.
"Taking probiotics three times a day for a month can work to restore healthy bacteria levels in your body so that your susceptibility to an inflamed bladder and UTI symptoms lessen, which will also make it easier for you to identify when you actually do have a UTI," says Pettit.