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Cystitis is the term for inflammation of the bladder, although it is usually used to refer to urinary tract infections which affect the bladder. It’s a common UTI, mostly among women, and is characterised by a burning sensation when passing urine, needing to go to the toilet more frequently, pain in the lower stomach and feeling generally sick and unwell. 

Cystitis can be caused by a number of things including sex, not fully emptying the bladder, wiping from back to front after urinating or using heavily perfumed soaps on your genitals. Mild cystitis can be treated by home remedies or over the counter medications, while more severe infections will be prescribed antibiotics. Prevention methods include emptying your bladder after sex, avoiding the use of perfumed soaps on the genitals and drinking plenty of water.

D4U Doctor

Dr. Diana Gall

GMC No. 7685129

Our Health Care Team

"Cystitis is one of the most common types of urinary tract infections which people (particularly women) can get. While the symptoms are unpleasant, they usually last only a few days and are not a major cause for concern. Sometimes though, Cystitis can linger for longer in which case it should be treated as soon as possible to avoid the infection spreading to other parts of the urinary tract like your kidneys. If symptoms persist, a prescription of antibiotics may be prescribed and you should complete the full course of tablets."

Cystitis explained

Cystitis is a common type of urinary tract infection (UTI) which causes the bladder to become inflamed. It can occur to both men and women but the vast majority of people it affects are female due to anatomical differences.

Usually a bacterial infection, cystitis occurs when bacteria manages to get into the bladder through the urethra. A UTI like cystitis often causes a burning or stinging sensation when urinating and can cause a lot of pain and discomfort around the lower abdomen area.

If you notice symptoms of cystitis, it is important to get them treated quickly, since cystitis left untreated can end up affecting other parts of the urinary tract including the bladder, ureters and kidneys. If left untreated long enough, a dangerous kidney infection could end up developing. But as long as it is dealt with swiftly, a UTI is unlikely to prove a major concern.

Symptoms of cystitis

There are quite a few symptoms related to urinating or feelings around your lower abdomen which can indicate a UTI such as cystitis. You could have such a condition if you have noticed one or several of the following symptoms:

  • Needing to urinate more often and more urgently than usual
  • Burning or stinging sensation when you’re urinating
  • Your urine is dark, cloudy or strong smelling
  • You feel as though you need to pee again shortly after the last time you peed
  • You’re noticing blood in your urine
  • You constantly have pain around the lower abdomen
  • You have general feelings of nausea, tiredness or aching

Risk factors of cystitis

You are much more likely to get cystitis if you’re female. One reason for that is that it’s easier for bacteria from the bowels to enter the urethra in women than it is in men, because of the close proximity between the two.

Children under a year old and the elderly are also more vulnerable to UTIs, due to the lining of the urethra being shorter and thinner. People with diabetes are also more at risk because the elevated sugar levels in the urine creates an environment in which bacteria can multiply. Also, people with diabetes can struggle to fully empty their bladder, meaning urine stays there too long and bacteria builds up.

Other risk factors for cystitis include the following:

  • Having sex. It can introduce bacteria to the urinary tract or frequent or vigorous sex can irritate the urethra.
  • Having a catheter
  • Wiping from back to front after going to the toilet
  • Using a diaphragm for contraception
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • The menopause
  • Using scented hygiene products (like bath salts or bath bombs, for instance)
  • Wearing non-cotton underwear such as nylon
  • Radiotherapy
  • Ketamine

Preventing cystitis

There are some circumstances which increase your chances of getting cystitis that simply can’t be avoided. For instance, if you’re female, elderly or naturally have a weakened immune system, then the risk is inevitably higher but there are still precautions you can take to avoid cystitis.

Your choice of underwear, for instance, can make a big difference to reducing or increasing the risk of getting cystitis. You’re less likely to get a UTI if you wear cotton underwear compared to if you wear underwear made of nylon, polyester, spandex or lace. Cotton is better at keeping the genital area dry, making it less likely to harbour bacteria.

Another way of reducing the risk of cystitis is to take showers rather than baths, since your genitals will be less exposed to dirty water. You don’t have to stop having baths completely, but not relying on them all the time and avoiding the use of bath bombs and similar products will make you less likely to catch a UTI.

Wiping from front to back after going to the toilet will also make it less likely to get cystitis, since you’re less likely to end up introducing colonic bacteria to the urethra. On a somewhat related note, drinking plenty of fluids helps protect you from UTIs as well, since it will make you go to the toilet more frequently and your urine is less concentrated. Both of these things reduce the bladder’s exposure to bacteria.

Cystitis treatment

More often than not, Cystitis will disappear on its own after a few days, but if you find that it lingers longer than that, it’s best to get medical advice. In the early stages, it’s recommended to follow some of the preventative steps mentioned above and use over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen to deal with pain and inflammation.

If the pain and discomfort is too severe for over-the-counter painkillers to overcome, then antibiotics will likely be prescribed to target the bacteria in the urinary tract. You’ll usually get a short course of antibiotics and you should finish them, even if you feel better before the treatment is over. Examples of antibiotics you may be prescribed include trimethoprim and nitrofurantoin.