How Does Colder Temperature Impact Urologic Health?

March 07,2023 |
Family walking through the snow.

Some people love winter, some people hate it, but depending on where you live, it’s a season that’s here to stay. Winter is filled with holiday celebrations and beautiful snow, making it a time many people cherish. However, there are also some negative effects of winter, especially regarding your urologic health. If you’ve ever noticed an increase in urgency, frequency, or urinary tract infections during the winter, you’re not alone. To help you better understand why this happens, we aim to answer the question, how does colder temperature impact urologic health?


What Happens to the Body in Cold Temperatures?

When your body is exposed to cold weather, several things start to happen. The physiological changes that take place are your body’s way of keeping you safe and optimizing organ function. This often begins with vasoconstriction. To reduce the amount of heat that’s lost, the blood vessels that are near your skin’s surface begin to constrict and narrow. This helps keep more warm blood circulating around vital organs, but in turn, reduces blood flow to extremities. This is one reason why your fingers and toes tend to feel the cold first. Your body may also start to shiver, which involves involuntary muscle contractions, to produce heat. Metabolism speeds up, blood pressure increases, and if your core temperature drops to a certain degree, hypothermia can occur. So, how does this impact urologic health?


Impact of Cold Temperature on Urologic Health

Many people tend to experience more urologic conditions during the colder months of the year. This is likely due to your body’s physiological response to low temperatures, which is activated to conserve heat and maintain homeostasis. These responses are good for your overall health but can produce negative effects on the urinary system.

As mentioned, cold temperature causes your body’s muscles to contract and tense up in an effort to stay warm. This constriction also affects your pelvic floor muscle, which can add pressure on the bladder and increase symptoms.

Another way your body tries to maintain heat is through cold diuresis. Cold diuresis is a response to increasing blood pressure and constricting blood vessels. When this happens, the same volume of blood is being pumped through your body through a much smaller passageway. This triggers your kidneys to filter more excess fluid to help reduce blood volume and pressure. The result is increased urine production.

You also tend to sweat less in the winter, so your kidneys are responsible for filtering more water, thus causing your bladder to fill faster than in the summer. This can result in annoying symptoms like overactive bladder and the increased risk of urinary tract infections.


Overactive Bladder

Overactive bladder (OAB) is a medical condition that’s characterized by a sudden, uncontrollable urge to urinate. People with OAB may experience symptoms such as urinary frequency, urgency, and incontinence, which can significantly impact their quality of life. OAB can affect people of all ages, but it is more common in older adults. It also disproportionately affects women.

The exact cause of OAB is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to changes in the muscles of the bladder and the nerves that control bladder function. These changes may be due to age, hormonal imbalances, neurological disorders, or other medical conditions. Cold weather may also be a trigger for OAB symptoms.

Results from a 2019 study done by the International Urology Journal indicated that cold weather does tend to agitate OAB symptoms more than warm weather, but definitive research is still lacking. However, experts believe that the reason it’s triggered is due to cold diuresis, as described above. As more urine is produced, OAB symptoms may increase in severity. As your body warms up and treatment is initiated, OAB symptoms should decrease in severity.


Increased Risk of Urinary Tract Infections

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection that can occur in any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra. UTIs are more common in women than men, and they can be caused by a variety of bacteria, including E. coli, which is found in the digestive tract.

UTIs may result in a range of symptoms, including pain or burning during urination, frequent urination, cloudy or foul-smelling urine, and sometimes even fever or chills. In some cases, UTIs can lead to more serious complications, such as kidney damage or sepsis. Although cold weather isn’t a direct cause of UTIs, it can increase your risk of developing them. 

For one, cold weather may cause people to drink less fluids, thus decreasing the frequency of urination. This can increase the concentration of bacteria in the urinary tract and, therefore, increase the risk of infection. Additionally, people may be more likely to hold their bladders for longer periods of time in cold weather, which gives bacteria time to grow.

Another potential explanation is that during the winter months, people tend to wear more layers of clothing, which can trap moisture and create a warm, moist environment that is conducive to bacterial growth. Finally, cold weather may also weaken the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight off infections, including UTIs.


How to Protect Your Urologic Health in Cold Temperatures

It can be frustrating to deal with these symptoms, but it’s still important to take precautions to protect your urologic health in cold temperatures. Some of the best ways to do this include the following:


Bundle Up and Stay Warm

Whenever you’re going to be in cold temperatures for longer periods of time, make sure that you bundle up and try to stay warm. You may want to consider wearing a few thermal layers, a heavy coat, winter boots, a scarf, a hat, and gloves. Although more layers can lead to sweating and trapped moisture, it’s better than the alternative. Your extremities are particularly susceptible to heat loss, so consider adding some glove warmers if the temperatures are near freezing or below. In doing so, you can help reduce the occurrence of cold diuresis, thus minimizing the risk of urologic symptoms.


Be Mindful of the Cold

With that being said, some temperatures are simply too cold to be outside in. If temperatures are below freezing, or there’s an additional windchill, avoid prolonged exposure. This will help you lower your risk of urologic conditions and reduce the likelihood that you get sick. If you need to be out in the cold, make sure you have enough protection to avoid issues and try to keep moving.


Stay Hydrated

Cold weather can dehydrate you, which is not good for your urologic health. Although it might seem difficult to drink enough water each day, doing so can help reduce your risk of UTIs and may even help with OAB symptoms. Proper hydration also helps your body regulate its temperature, which can reduce the risk of hypothermia or other cold-related illnesses. If you’re not a fan of drinking plain water, try some herbal teas or herb-infused water.


Use the Bathroom Regularly

If you’re out and about and you need to use the bathroom, don’t hold it. Try to maintain your regular bathroom habits as much as possible and if you notice significant changes, keep track of them. This can help give you more information on what’s going on so you can talk to your urologist about ways to address frequency or urgency.


Practice Healthy Habits

Although winter tends to be intrinsically tied to comfort foods and extra calories, try to maintain healthy habits as much as possible. Eat a balanced diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables and maintain your exercise routine. These are both crucial factors in protecting your urologic health and keeping your body working at its best, regardless of the temperature changes.


Quit Smoking

Smoking is one of the worst habits you can have, especially regarding urologic health. Smoking constricts blood vessels, which is even more severe in cold weather. It also irritates your bladder and urinary system and can lead to several long-term complications. If you’re having trouble with smoking cessation, talk to your doctor.


To help you maintain optimal urologic health throughout the year, it’s important to schedule regular visits with your urologist. For additional management of temporary or chronic urologic issues, Byram Healthcare is here to help. We carry a wide selection of high-quality urologic products that can help you take back control of your life. To learn more, or to speak with a representative regarding urologic questions or ongoing management, contact Byram Healthcare today.

Byram Healthcare is a member of the National Association for Continence’s Trusted Partners Program, whose mission is to provide quality continence care through education, collaboration and advocacy. We continue to build partnerships in the clinical community to ensure we focus on what’s best for the patient.