It is possible to break the cycle of recurring UTIs and yeast infections, whether they are from exercise or not.
It seems like everyone is jumping on the indoor cycling trend, and it’s no wonder considering many people have spent more time at home than ever before. Even President Joe Biden brought his exercise bike to the White House when he was inaugurated. However, the increased popularity of cycling has prompted a concern for many women: is this new workout routine causing urinary tract infections (UTI) and/or yeast infections?
It is easy to look towards your newest lifestyle change as the reason for increased UTIs or yeast infections, but this is not the culprit according to Dr. Paul Nyirjesy, co-director of the Jefferson Vulvovaginal Health Center. We talked with Dr. Nyirjesy about why these concerns may be rising and what to do if you are getting recurring yeast infections or UTIs, and how you can cure them.
Can cycling cause UTIs or yeast infections?
It’s hard to study because the few studies done have looked at people at one point in time. So, it isn’t easy to know whether there is a link between yeast infections or UTIs and cycling. However, cycling may be associated with common symptoms such as saddle sores, numbness, and other symptoms that women might mistake as a yeast infection but are actually due to localized trauma.
Part of the general lore is that you have to keep the vulvovaginal clean and dry by changing out of sweaty clothes and that if you don’t do these things, you increase your risk of infection. Although we do tell this to our patients with recurring yeast infections, it’s not clear that it makes a big difference, and there isn’t much data to support it.
Many women think that they have a yeast infection but don’t have one at all. So, if somebody sees a change in their discharge after using their exercise bike, but they aren’t itchy, burning, or having other symptoms, it probably isn’t a yeast infection at all. It may just be that with exercise, they’re accumulating more vaginal secretions. The symptoms of a yeast infection are primarily itching and burning, but most women are under the impression that the main sign of a yeast infection is a thick white discharge, which is not true.
Why are women claiming they are getting an increase in infections?
Many conditions can cause the symptoms of a yeast infection or UTI that are not infectious in origin. For example, there’s a condition called vulvodynia, which is nerve pain in the vulva. Sometimes, when there’s pressure on the vulvar area, this pain may feel worse. Suppose patients are cyclists, either indoor or outdoor, and have vulvar or vaginal pain with or after biking. In that case, they should consider raising their handlebars or changing their bike seats to relieve pressure on their vulva.
Is it bad to continue to workout with infections?
The best measure is whether they feel worse when they workout. Their body will give them the answer. If there is more discomfort while exercising, it’s best to skip the workout or alter the routine.
Is it possible to treat a yeast infection or UTI from home?
It is always better to be diagnosed with a yeast infection because there is such a high self-misdiagnosis rate. You can buy an over-the-counter yeast infection medication, and these are very effective. However, studies show that about two-thirds of the time, when a woman treats herself for a yeast infection, she is treating the wrong thing. A UTI has the symptoms of frequent urination and voiding only small amounts without feeling relief. If someone has these symptoms, they should call their healthcare provider for a prescription over the phone. But if it is recurring, they need to be evaluated too.
Vulvodynia also needs a diagnosis, and it isn’t always straightforward to treat. Many patients would need to see a specialist to treat this.
Are there long-term effects of these infections recurring?
There can be a cycle of these infections being treated, and just as they start to feel better, another infection appears. There are ways to treat this. For yeast infections, patients can take six months of antifungal medications after we prove the diagnosis. It’s important to break the cycle of frequent infections. With recurring UTIs in young, healthy patients, they can take an antibiotic each time they have intercourse. While UTIs aren’t sexually transmitted, there’s something about sexual activity that may trigger a UTI.
Every yeast infection is different, and because of the issues around misdiagnoses, it’s important to see a doctor to treat your symptoms properly. Similarly, if you have recurring UTIs, it’s important to see a doctor and get a urine culture to see what is causing these issues. With proper treatment, these problems are preventable.