With temperatures dropping below freezing across the UK for much of this week, Britons are wrapping up warm and chugging the hot chocolate. But a medical expert has warned of an additional, but little-known risk that comes with the cold weather - cystitis.
Cystitis is a urinary tract infection (UTI) which affects the bladder. While it is a common condition, especially in women, symptoms of cystitis can be debilitating and go from bad to worse in a short span of time.
The main symptoms include pain or a burning sensation when you pee, as well as feeling the urge to pee more often and urgently than usual.
Patients may also see that their pee is dark, cloudy or strong-smelling, and may experience pain low down in their tummy.
According to the NHS, cystitis often "gets better by itself", but may need to be treated with antibiotics. It advises seeing a GP if your symptoms have not cleared up within three days or become more severe, such as severe pain in the lower tummy.
Men and children can also get the infection, but is most common among women, with an estimated 60% of women experiencing cystitis during their lifetime.
And the cold snap which Britain is experiencing this week may put people at higher risk of cystitis.
Pharmacist Sultan Dajani, who is an advisor to cystitis medication Effercitrate Tablets, explains to Yahoo UK that there are a couple of reasons why the cold weather could lead to the infection.
"Cold diuresis is a warning sign that the body is sensing hypothermia and is a protective mechanism for preventing hypothermia in the all-important central organs," Dajani says.
"It allows more blood flow around the internal organs to keep them warm whilst reducing blood flow to the skin. This means more blood flow through the body, including the kidneys, which then have more waste to filter."
As the kidneys deal with filtering more waste, blood pressure increases and the kidneys have to work overtime to produce more fluid in order to bring down blood pressure, which makes you need the toilet more often.
"This is achieved in part by the reduction in the secretion of anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) from the brain," Dajani continues. "This may result in dehydration, and the kidneys won’t have enough fluid to filter the extra waste."
The extra waste that stays in the urinary system is what is responsible for creating the right conditions for cystitis to develop.
As dehydration is one of the biggest causes of cystitis, Dajani warns that anything which causes dehydration will put you at higher risk.
"Drinking a lot of alcohol risks causing dehydration. Secondly, wrapping up warm as we do in cold weather can increase sweating," she says, emphasising the importance of drinking plenty of fluid during the winter.
"Thirdly, immune function also reduces during the cold winter months and makes us more vulnerable to infections from colds and flu to cystitis."
How to prevent cystitis
In order to avoid the infection, Dajani recommends staying well-hydrated and wearing cotton underwear, as well as avoiding tight-fitting trousers to reduce sweating around the genital area, which could lead to irritation.
The direction in which you wipe after going to the toilet is also important to avoid cystitis. "Always wipe your bottom from front to back when you go to the toilet," Dajani explains.
Her other advice includes:
Don’t use perfumed products on the genital area
Take showers instead of baths
Limit intake of fruit juices, alcohol and sugary drinks and foods as they can irritate the bladder
If you do get cystitis, you should drink plenty of water and take medication such as Effercitrate Tablets, which dissolve in water and contain potassium citrate and citric acid to make urine more alkaline and soothe the bladder and urethra lining.
However, if your symptoms worsen or don’t go away within a couple of days, you should call your GP practice or visit a walk-in centre.
"Busting cystitis fast is essential as it can be very debilitating and can worsen to cause a kidney infection so don’t delay dealing with it," Dajani adds.
Watch: "I thought I could cure my UTI with cranberry juice until it gave me sepsis - this needs to be taught in sex education"
Read more about cystitis:
Living with a chronic UTI: 'The pain feels like I'm sitting in acid' (Yahoo Life UK, 8-min read)
What is a chronic UTI? Symptoms, causes, antibiotic resistance and treatments (Yahoo Life UK, 8-min read)
‘Hidden’ bacteria could explain chronic urinary tract infections (PA Media, 2-min read)