Four litres of water a day – and a tablet every time I have sex!: How Lesley Garrett beat cystitis
21:00 GMT, 5 May 2012
21:00 GMT, 5 May 2012
Lesley Garrett drinks a huge amount of water – up to four litres every day.
It’s something the opera singer has in common with many female showbiz professionals who swear it is the secret to a flawless skin.
But for the 57-year-old (who has the dewy complexion of a woman decades younger, but swears it’s not thanks to the surgeon’s knife, just a bit of Botox) there is a far more serious reason for her slavish regime.
In tune with her condition: Lesley Garrett is now able to predict when cystitis is about to strike, and take action to prevent it
Lesley, who lives in North London with her GP husband Peter, 60, has been struggling with a painful and debilitating illness since her teenage years: a chronic form of the urinary tract infection (UTI) cystitis.
The water is essential in keeping the condition at bay – when she was in her mid-20s, it led to her collapsing and being taken to hospital with kidney failure.
‘Cystitis is a nightmare,’ says the soprano.
‘I suffer all the symptoms – agonising stomach pains, a raging fever, and the constant, desperate need to go to the loo. It’s like peeing broken glass.
'At its worst, in my 20s, I couldn’t leave my house when it was bad – I could hardly leave the bathroom.
‘The only thing I could do was drink unbelievable amounts of water, which seemed to work but that gave me another problem – desperately needing to go to the loo.
'I’d be on stage with a bursting bladder, ticking off the seconds until a scene is finished.’
The water is essential in keeping cystitis at bay (picture posed by model)
She also has a far more frank confession: every time she makes love, she has to take an antibiotic tablet – on doctor’s orders.
‘Dehydration and sex are the main risk factors with cystitis. I’m sure a lot of women identify with that.
'As soon as I feel the warning signs – discomfort when I pee or twinges in my lower abdomen – I take an antibiotic called nitrofurantoin.
‘And after sex I don’t wait for a twinge, I take one irrespective.
'I’ll just take one that night or afternoon.’
So far the treatment has worked. ‘I have never had side effects,’ Lesley says.
‘Even better, my kidneys have stayed relatively healthy.’
of all women in the UK will suffer from a UTI. Urine is made in the
kidneys, and ureters are the tubes running from the kidney to the
bladder where urine is stored.
The urethra carries urine from the bladder and out of the body.
In the case of a UTI, bacteria enter the bladder from the urethra.
Symptoms include a burning sensation when urinating, a need to urinate more often and pain in the abdomen.
serious cases the bacteria may ascend to the kidney via the ureter and
cause acute inflammation. This can cause long-term problems such as
reduced renal function.
Aged 27, Lesley collapsed after performing The Marriage Of Figaro.
Scans revealed she had an ectopic kidney – a condition that affects one in 3,000 Britons – where one or both of the organs fail to move into the correct position below the ribcage in the womb.
In Lesley’s case, one kidney was in her pelvis and was functioning at a quarter of capacity.
The other had grown disproportionately large as it worked hard to compensate.
'I'm careful about anything which may dehydrate me,' said Lesley
Further tests showed she had an exceptionally short ureter: 2in when it should be up to 10in. It means she is more prone to infections.
Her kidney was infected; she was in danger of losing it completely.
‘By the time I became seriously ill, I was having full courses of antibiotics six or seven times a year to combat cystitis.
'It was a terrifying time. I was so scared and in excruciating pain. I thought I might die.’
Lesley was referred to now-retired consultant nephrologist Dr William Cattell. He was pioneering a new treatment at Barts Hospital in London.
Low-dose, long-term antibiotics were then a new concept. Lesley credits him with saving her career and kidney.
She was on antibiotics for several years before changing to her current regime.
Dr Cattell says: ‘Women’s urethras are too short, so it’s easier for infection to penetrate to the bladder and kidneys.
‘Antibiotics have been used to treat UTIs for 60 years. It wasn’t the antibiotic that was new, but the way we used it.
'We realised for women with recurring cystitis, the dangerous time was overnight.’
Urine flow rate goes down overnight and germs can multiply.
Dr Cattell says: ‘We had the idea of a dose of antibiotics before bedtime so that patients were protected throughout the night – a preventative measure.’
Women can take this reduced dose nightly for years.
‘It’s enough to protect from future infection but not so much of the immune system is overwhelmed,’ says Dr Cattell.
Lesley was on nightly antibiotics for five years.
‘In some women, just being on constant antibiotics for a few months means they recover completely,’ says Dr Cattell.
‘For Lesley, this wasn’t the case, so she stayed on the course for longer.’
Lesley says: ‘I’ve become so attuned to my condition I can tell when I’m at risk.
'I’m careful about anything which may dehydrate me, such as tea, coffee and alcohol, and have a glass of water at the same time.’
Does she ever get bored of having to guzzle so much water
‘No. If I had another kidney infection, I would be very seriously ill. Without the antibiotics I would already have died.’
Lesley’s CD, A North Country Lass, is out now.