Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Cystitis is an infection that affects the bladder, more commonly known as a urinary tract infection (UTI). It is a common infection and affects more women than men. It can get better by itself but sometimes needs antibiotic treatment. Cystitis can happen regularly, known as recurrent cystitis.

There are things you can do at home to reduce your risk of cystitis, but if you do get it and it doesn’t go away there are prescription treatments available. If you’re not sure if you have cystitis, there are fast and reliable tests you can take at home.

What is Cystitis?

Cystitis is an infection of your urinary tract, known as a UTI. It is usually caused by bacteria. It is an inflammation of your bladder, which can cause symptoms such as burning or pain when you pee or an increased need to pee. It is more common in women but anybody can get cystitis. The infection can go away on its own, but you may need long term treatment if you get it regularly.

Is cystitis the same as a UTI?

Cystitis is a type of UTI, meaning it is not the same as a UTI. There are other types of UTI other than cystitis.

How common is cystitis?

Cystitis is a very common UTI, especially in women. This is because women have a shorter urethra (the tube that takes pee from the bladder) than men, making it easier for bacteria to travel up the tract and cause infection.

Can men get cystitis?

Yes, while cystitis and other UTIs are more common in women, men can also get cystitis.

What are the Symptoms of Cystitis?

As cystitis affects your urinary tract, you may get symptoms such as:

  • burning, stinging, or pain when peeing
  • a need to pee more often or more urgently, even if you only pee a small amount when you get to the toilet
  • a change in your pee, such as cloudy, strong smelling, or dark urine
  • pain in the lower part of your stomach

Older people or those with a condition such as dementia may get other symptoms, such as:

  • wetting themselves
  • shaking
  • high temperature (fever)
  • changes in behaviour, such as confusion or agitation

What are the early signs of cystitis?

The early signs of cystitis may be any of the common symptoms, such as needing to pee more urgently. You can get any or all of the above symptoms.

What does cystitis look like?

Cystitis is an infection inside your body, which means it does not look like anything. You may have cystitis if your pee is darker than usual, but this could also be a sign of dehydration or another medical condition.

Is cystitis painful?

Cystitis can be painful or uncomfortable, especially when you pee.

How long does cystitis last?

Cystitis should usually go away after 3 days but can last longer. You should speak to your doctor if you have cystitis symptoms for more than 3 days.

Cystitis complications

Cystitis complications are rare but may happen if the infection does not go away or you do not get treatment. This could cause an infection in your kidney, as the infection can travel up your urinary tract. Cystitis can also sometimes cause blood in your urine. You should speak to your doctor straight away if you have blood in your urine or have symptoms of a kidney infection.

When should I talk to a doctor about my cystitis?

You should talk to a doctor about your cystitis if you:

  • keep getting cystitis, known as recurrent cystitis
  • still have symptoms after 3 days
  • have severe symptoms, such as severe pain in your lower stomach, fever, vomiting or back pain
  • have cystitis symptoms and are pregnant
  • are a man

What Causes Cystitis?

Cystitis is usually caused by bacteria. This happens if the bacteria from your poo gets into your urinary tract, through your urethra. Your urethra is the tube which carries urine out of your body. It happens more in women as a female's urethra is shorter than in men. Some things can increase your risk of getting bacteria in your urinary tract, such as having a weakened immune system or having sex.

What increases your risk of cystitis?

Some things could increase your risk of getting cystitis, such as:

  • having a weakened immune system
  • having diabetes
  • being postmenopausal
  • having a condition that makes it difficult to empty the bladder
  • being pregnant
  • having a condition that blocks the urinary tract, like kidney stones
  • using spermicide with contraception
  • having a urinary catheter, which is a tube used to drain urine from your bladder
  • wiping your bottom from back to front after using the toilet
  • having sex

According to this study, the risk of cystitis can increase by 10% for every day that a woman has a catheter and 3 to 4% in men.

The above risk factors could cause cystitis as they can affect the normal bacteria in your vagina, make it easier for bacteria to enter your bladder or make it more difficult for your body to fight cystitis. This study found that anything that affects normal vaginal bacteria can increase the risk of developing UTIs, such as menopause, pregnancy, and having sex.

What is recurrent cystitis?

Recurrent cystitis is where you get cystitis with symptoms twice or more in 6 months or 3 times or more in a year. Your doctor may check tests to find out why you are having recurrent cystitis and prescribe long term treatment to help prevent or treat recurrent cystitis, so you should always speak to a doctor if you keep getting cystitis.

Why do I keep getting cystitis?

Your body has natural defences to protect you against bacterial infections such as cystitis, including mildly acidic mucus in the vagina that prevents bacteria from growing and multiplying. If you keep getting cystitis, then it is likely that these natural defences are not working properly, or something is affecting your body’s ability to kill off the bacteria before it causes an infection. The most common causes of recurrent cystitis are:

  • Bladder or kidney problems - bacteria is typically flushed from the body through urine, so if you have a condition that causes urine to stay in your body then that can increase your risk of an infection.
  • Sex - having sex increases the chance of bacteria getting into the vagina and urinary tract, which can cause cystitis.
  • Some contraceptives, especially the contraceptive diaphragm - this is more common if your diaphragm doesn’t fit correctly. These contraceptives typically use spermicide to protect against pregnancy, which can change the Ph balance of the vagina and kill off protective bacteria
  • Hormonal changes - this is especially common during menopause or during pregnancy. A fall in oestrogen levels can reduce the amount of protective mucus in the vagina, which makes you more prone to infection.

Why do I get cystitis after intercourse?

When women have sex, the normal bacteria in their vagina can change. This can increase the risk of getting cystitis. Sex can also cause some bacteria to get into your urethra. The risk of cystitis can also be increased if you use spermicide with contraception. It’s best to pee as soon as possible after having sex to try to prevent cystitis.

Similarly, men are also at a higher risk of cystitis after sex, as bacteria may be able to get into the urethra. However, because a man’s urethra is longer, it is less likely for bacteria to be able to travel to the bladder and cause an infection.

How is Cystitis Diagnosed?

Cystitis can be diagnosed by a doctor by asking about your symptoms. They may also take a urine test, which can be tested for the bacteria that cause cystitis, as well as any other infections. If you have cystitis symptoms that do not go away after 3 days, speak to your doctor.

What tests would a doctor perform?

The usual test a doctor would perform is a urine test. They can use a urine dipstick, which can test for certain things in your urine. They may also send your urine to a lab. If you get recurrent cystitis, your doctor may request other tests, such as an ultrasound or a cystoscopy. This is a procedure where a camera is inserted into your urethra to look at your bladder.

How do I know if I have cystitis?

You can check if you have cystitis by using a Testcard UTI test. This is a quick accurate test that can let you know if you have a UTI. You can also speak to a doctor.

How is Cystitis Treated?

Cystitis can go away on its own but if symptoms do not get better after 3 days, you might need treatment. Cystitis can be treated with antibiotics, such as Macrobid. Cystitis can be cured but this does not stop cystitis from coming back in the future. You can also do some things at home to prevent cystitis and reduce the risk of recurrent cystitis.

How to treat cystitis

Superdrug Online Doctor has cystitis treatment if you think you have cystitis and have had symptoms for more than 3 days. A doctor will check your answers to a short questionnaire to make sure this is suitable for you.

The usual treatment if cystitis does not go away on its own is an antibiotic. Our doctors can prescribe Macrobid, which contains the active ingredient nitrofurantoin. It works by killing the bacteria in your urinary tract that is causing cystitis and you should feel better in 3 to 7 days. In this clinic trial, nitrofurantoin was found to be effective in 84% of women.

Your doctor may prescribe another antibiotic similar to Macrobid that contains the same active ingredient nitrofurantoin. If this does not work, they may try a different antibiotic such as fosfomycin.

If you get recurrent cystitis, your doctor might prescribe a single dose antibiotic that can be taken 2 hours after having sex if you usually get cystitis after sex. You may also get a low dose antibiotic that can be taken for 6 months, or a vaginal cream if you are postmenopausal.

How to treat cystitis naturally

If you only have mild symptoms or have not had symptoms for 3 days, you can treat cystitis naturally by:

  • using over the counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, aspirin, or ibuprofen
  • avoiding sex or any other triggers
  • drinking lots of water
  • peeing often
  • avoiding drinks that could irritate your bladder, such as coffee, alcohol, or fruit juice
  • using a hot water bottle if you have lower stomach pain

Some people drink cranberry juice to treat and prevent cystitis, but there is not a lot of evidence to show how much this helps. Cranberry juice also contains a lot of sugar and should not be used if you take warfarin.

How to Prevent Cystitis

Some lifestyle changes can prevent the risk of cystitis, such as:

  • peeing straight after sex
  • wiping from front to back every time you use the toilet, to reduce the risk of bacteria getting into your urinary tract
  • drinking lots of water, so you regularly flush out bacteria
  • having showers rather than baths, as this limits your genitals from being exposed to products for a long time
  • washing your vagina before and after sex
  • keeping your genitals clean and dry

There are also some things you should avoid to prevent cystitis, such as:

  • using bubble bath, talcum powder, or scented soap near your vagina, as this can affect your natural bacteria balance
  • holding your pee even if you need to go
  • not fully emptying your bladder
  • using spermicide with contraception, as this can also cause an imbalance of vaginal bacteria
  • drinking lots of coffee or alcohol, as these drinks can irritate your bladder
  • having lots of sugar, as this can encourage the growth of bacteria

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