Running With Illness: Urinary Tract Infections

Updated on December 8, 2016

In terms of physiology, it is clear that many of the factors that weigh heavily on exercise performance, particularly hydration levels, blood-sugar levels, and cardiopulmonary status, are the same ones chiefly affected by certain disease states. Unfortunately, a lot of women, as well as some men, at one time or another will experience a urinary tract infection, commonly called a UTI.

As stated above, UTIs are of particular concern to women runners. This infection involves the lower urinary tract and, in more severe cases, the kidneys. Antibiotics generally resolve the problem in short order, but the after-effects may persist for a week or two beyond the resolution of symptoms. Keeping these at bay can be summed up in a word: hydrate.

Premature return to the roads or trails for hard workouts could lead to relapse because of the stress of dehydration on the kidneys. Doctors suggest easing back into running with easy workouts for the first week or so, paying strict attention to fluid intake, and perhaps drinking cranberry juice, as well. Cranberry juice has been shown in some studies to reduce the recurrence of UTIs.

Although not completely avoidable, there are many things you can do to help prevent UTIs. Wearing proper running gear is a big one. You want to make sure the underwear you wear while running pulls sweat and moisture away from you; if not, it will give bacteria a place to grow. There are also many alternative medicines you can use (see photo) instead of prescriptions medicines. These home remedies can reduce dehydration and can help prevent UTIs in the first place, including the following:

  • Cranberry juice
  • Baking soda and water
  • Drinking lots of water

When To See A Doctor

Many women (and men) think UTIs are no big deal, and usually they are right. However, it is important to know when you see a doctor.

If you have more than 2 urinary tract infections (or what you think are urinary tract infections) within 6 months, or more than 3 episodes in 12 months, you should see a doctor, says Kristene E. Whitmore, M.D., chief of urology and director of the Incontinence Center at Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia.

"It's critical that we get the message out to women that if they have recurrent symptoms, they need to check with their doctors and ask for a urine culture," says Linda Brubaker, M.D., director of the Section of Urogynecology and Reconstructive Pelvic Surgery at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago. "Just because you have symptoms, it does not mean that you have an infection. There's a difference between having inflammation in your urethra, which can cause sensitivity and irritation, and having a bacterial infection. I've seen women who were eating antibiotics by the pound for years, and they never had an infection to begin with. Many women think that they have a bladder infection every month, but they don't."

Doctors say that you should always consult a physician if you experience any of the following symptoms.

  • Blood in your urine
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lower-back pain

You should also see a doctor if you've been diagnosed with a UTI and the symptoms don't start clearing up within two days.

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