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What is cystitis?

Cystitis is an inflammation of the inside lining of the bladder. Cystitis is an irritating condition that usually affects women, though men and children can also be affected.

Over half the women in the U.K. will suffer from cystitis at some stage in their lives and though it can be painful, it doesn’t usually cause any long term complications. Cystitis is more common in women when they are pregnant and after the menopause.

What causes cystitis?

The most common cause of cystitis is when bacteria, that usually live in the anus, enter the urethra and travel into the bladder. This can happen during sexual intercourse, when inserting tampons or by wiping/washing your bottom from back to front. Women who use the contraceptive diaphragm may also be at risk of cystitis.

If the bladder is not emptied fully this can also cause bacteria to multiply, this is especially common in pregnant women because of the pressure on the pelvic area.

After the menopause women have a reduction in female sex hormones and so the lining of the urethra and the bladder become thinner and so are more likely to become infected and damaged. Women also produce less mucus after the menopause and without the mucus bacteria are more likely to multiply. Women generally are more likely to get cystitis than men as their urethra is shorter than a mans and is closer to the back passage, meaning bacteria hasn’t got as far to travel.

In women physical damage or bruising often caused by vigorous or frequent sex can also lead to cystitis this is sometimes known as ‘honeymoon cystitis’.

Diabetes can also increase the risk of cystitis as raised sugar levels can encourage bacteria to multiply quicker than normal.

Men who have an enlarged prostate gland are more at risk of getting cystitis, this is because the prostate prevents the bladder from completely emptying. When the bladder is not completely emptied the small drop that is always left behind may contain bacteria (a cause of cystitis).

Symptoms linked with cystitis:

  • Pain (often burning) in the genitals when passing urine.
  • Feeling of wanting to pass urine, often urgently and more often than usual and yet having very little urine to pass.
  • Urine may be dark or cloudy and contain blood.
  • Strong or fishy smelling urine.
  • A high temperature.
  • A dull ache or pain in the lower back or abdomen.
  • These symptoms can also be a sign of another type of infection, such as a sexually transmitted disease. If you are worried about any symptoms you have, you should visit your doctor.
  • Children who have cystitis might also get a high temperature and have little appetite.

    How is cystitis diagnosed?

    If you have mild cystitis and and you recognise the symptoms you should be able to diagnose and treat it yourself. However, you should see your doctor if you are not sure you have cystitis, symptoms do not improve or your symptoms are severe. Doctors will commonly diagnose cystitis with a urine test, this will usually be a dipstick in your urine. However, if a more detailed analysis is required your sample may be sent for a laboratory test at a hospital. The urine sample will be tested to identify the presence of any bacteria. We sell a urine dip stick test for cystitis on this website that can help identify of you have cystitis. For more information or to purchase click here.

    If a woman gets repeated infections then the doctor should refer her for further tests such as an ultrasound or x-ray.

    What treatment is available for cystitis?

    If you have mild cystitis it will usually clear by itself in 2-4 days. You can help by drinking lots of water (or any other bland liquid) as this will help to flush out bacteria and dilute your urine, so that when you pass urine it will not sting as much. However, try to avoid drinking anything, which contains caffeine such as coffee.

    You can also try using bicarbonate of soda, a teaspoon in half a pint of water, 2 or 3 times a day (avoid this however if you suffer with high blood pressure or heart trouble).

    If you are in pain, try placing a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel, on your lower back or between your thighs. Painkillers may also help to relieve the pain, ask your pharmacist for advice.

    If your cystitis has not cleared up within a day or so you should consult your doctor as you may require antibiotics (such as amoxicillin). Pregnant women, children and men with cystitis should always see their doctor. If your symptoms do not improve after the first few days of treatment then return to your GP.

    Women who get cystitis more than twice a year may benefit from medium or long term antibiotic use. If you have recurrent cystitis your doctor may prescribe stand-by antibiotics or continuous antibiotics. A stand-by antibiotic is a prescription you can take to a pharmacy the next time you have symptoms of cystitis, without needing to visit your GP first. Continuous antibiotics are taken for several months to prevent further episodes of cystitis. Your GP will prescribe appropriately, depending on symptoms and any known trigger (ie sexual intercourse).

    Is there anything I can do to prevent future attacks of cystitis?

    To prevent future infections you should avoid anything that might cause irritation such as:

  • Nylon tights and underwear (choose cotton underwear instead).
  • Tight trousers and jeans.
  • Perfumed soap, talcum powder or deodorants in the genital area.
  • Bubble bath and bath oils.
  • You should also try the following:

  • After you have been to the toilet always wipe from front to back.
  • Wash your genital area morning and night.
  • Try to pass water before and after sex.
  • Take showers instead of baths.
  • Try to drink at least 3 pints of liquid a day.
  • Drink cranberry juice, as it stops bacteria from clinging to the cells lining the bladder.Pass water as soon as you feel the need – don’t “hang on”. The bladder only stays clean and free from bacteria if it is emptied regularly.

    What happens if cystitis is left untreated?

    The bacteria that cause symptoms of cystitis can also produce the same effects over a longer period if left untreated. This is known as chronic cystitis. This can happen when the initial course of antibiotic treatment is not completed, allowing some of the bacteria to remain, or when some germs have a resistance to treatment. Chronic symptoms of cystitis can also be experienced when there is some abnormality in the urinary tract, such as a bladder stone.

    If left untreated the bacteria can spread in to the kidneys causing a kidney infection to develop.