Cystitis is an inflammation of the urinary bladder and occurs fairly commonly in women. Inflammation is usually caused by a bacterial infection, otherwise known as a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Mild cases of cystitis often get better without treatment within a few days; however, for people who experience episodes of cystitis frequently regular or long-term treatment may be necessary.
The main symptoms of cystitis include:
- pain, burning or stinging when you pass urine
- needing to pee more often and urgently than normal
- urine that is dark, cloudy or strong smelling
- pain low down in your tummy
- feeling generally unwell, achy, sick and tired
- blood in the urine
Symptoms in young children could include a high temperature of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above, weakness, irritability, reduced appetite and vomiting. In adults, cystitis does not usually cause a high temperature. If you have a temperature of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above and pain in your lower back or sides, it may be a sign of a kidney infection.
Women tend to get cystitis more often than men because their back passage is closer to their urethra, and their urethra is much shorter, which provides easier access for bacteria into the bladder.
Most cases of cystitis are thought to occur when bacteria that live harmlessly in the bowel or on the skin get into the bladder through the urethra. Cystitis can also be caused by damage or irritation to the urethra and bladder. Some causes are:
- friction from having sex
- wiping your bottom after going to the toilet (especially if you wipe from back to front)
- inserting a tampon
- damage caused by a urinary catheter or surgery on your bladder
- using a diaphragm for contraception
- chemical irritants, such as those in perfumed soap or bubble bath
- radiotherapy to your pelvis or treatment with certain
- chemotherapy medicines
- female genital mutilation or FGM (where a woman’s genitals having been deliberately cut or changed for cultural, religious and social reasons – this is an illegal practice)
Cystitis has also been linked to recreational use of the drug ketamine.
You may be prescribed antibiotics to treat the infection. These should start to have an effect within a day or two. If you have had cystitis before and do not feel you need to see your GP, you may treat your symptoms at home; until you’re feeling better, it may help to:
- taking paracetamol or ibuprofen
- drinking plenty of water
- holding a hot water bottle on your tummy or between your thighs
- avoiding sex
If you get cystitis frequently, you could try some of the following measures:
- not using perfumed toiletries such as bubble bath, soap or talcum powder around your genitals
- have a shower, rather than a bath to avoid exposing your genitals to the chemicals in your toiletries for too long
- going to the toilet as soon as you need to urinate and always emptying your bladder fully
- staying well hydrated ( this may help to stop bacteria multiplying in your bladder)
- always wiping your bottom from front to back when you go to the toilet
- empty your bladder as soon as possible after having sex
- not using a diaphragm as a method of contraception
- wearing cotton underwear
- not wearing tight jeans and trousers
It may not always be easy to prevent cystitis. Some infections occur due to a blockage to the urinary system, caused by bladder stones, pregnancy, or an enlarged prostate gland. Some infections occur in response to systematic health changes, associated with Diabetes or during menopause for example.
Cystitis can lead to a more serious kidney infection so it is important to seek medical advice if symptoms do not improve; for instance, if:
- you are not sure whether you have cystitis
- your symptoms do not start to improve within a few days
- you get cystitis frequently
- you have severe symptoms, such as blood in your urine, a fever or pain in your side
- you are pregnant and have symptoms of cystitis
- you are a man and have symptoms of cystitis
- your child has symptoms of cystitis
If you have long-term or frequent pelvic pain and problems passing urine, you may have a condition called interstitial cystitis. This condition mostly affects middle-aged women and you will need to see your GP for symptom relief and further advice.