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Cystitis - symptoms, treatment and what you should do

Cystitis is a bladder inflammation that, in most cases, is caused by an infection. Most women suffer from cystitis at some point in their lives. While it’s uncomfortable and distressing, it’s usually not serious and mild cases will get better by themselves. A few people will get cystitis regularly and will need regular or long-term treatment.

What does it feel like?

The main symptoms of cystitis include:

  • Discomfort when you pee that can be pain, burning or stinging

  • Needing to pee more often and more urgently than usual

  • Pee that is dark, cloudy or has a strong smell

  • A pain low down in your tummy

  • Feeling generally unwell, achy, sick and tired

Is it serious?

Most cases of cystitis are uncomfortable, but not serious. However, occasionally there's a chance that cystitis could lead to a more serious kidney infection. It’s important to see a doctor if you don’t get better.

Some women find that bouts of cystitis can be distressing and disruptive to their everyday lives.

How can I cure it?

If you've had cystitis before and don't feel you need to see a doctor, you will be able to treat your symptoms at home.

Until you recover, it may help to:

  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen

  • Drink plenty of water

  • Hold a hot water bottle against your tummy

  • Avoid having sex

Some women use over-the-counter products intended to reduce the acidity of their urine, but there is limited evidence that these are effective. Others find drinking cranberry juice helps them feel better, but, once again, there is no proof that this works.

How can I stop it happening again?

Most cases of cystitis are caused when bacteria normally present in the bowel or on the skin gets into the bladder. It gets into your bladder through your urethra, which is the tube that carries urine out of your body.

It's not always clear what causes this to happen, but it could be:

  • Having sex – this is known as honeymoon cystitis

  • Wiping your bottom after going to the toilet – particularly if you wipe from back to front

  • Inserting a tampon

  • Inserting a urinary catheter (a thin tube inserted into the urethra to drain the bladder)

  • Using a diaphragm, or cap, for contraception

If you find yourself suffering from cystitis frequently, there some things you could try to stop it coming back. These include:

  • Only using mild, unperfumed bubble bath, soap or talcum powder around your genitals

  • Choosing a shower rather than a bath to reduce the time your genitals are exposed to chemicals in cleaning products

  • Not waiting if you need to pee and always emptying your bladder fully when you go

  • Keep drinking plenty of water to help flush bacteria from your bladder

  • Always wiping from front to back when you go to the toilet

  • Going for a pee as soon as possible after having sex

  • Using different contraception to your diaphragm

  • Wearing pants that are cotton and trousers or jeans that are not tight

  • Some people believe that drinking cranberry juice helps, but there is no evidence that this is the case

When should I see a doctor?

Most women don’t need to see a doctor if they have cystitis, as mild cases get better on their own or following advice from a pharmacist.

However, don’t hesitate to see your GP if:

  • You’re not sure whether it is cystitis

  • It doesn’t get better after a few days

  • You get bouts frequently

  • Your symptoms are severe, such as blood in your urine, fever, or pain in your side

  • You’re pregnant

Your GP may treat your cystitis with antibiotics.

What if it isn’t an infection?

Not all cystitis is caused by bacteria. If your cystitis is persistent or causes you frequent pelvic pain and problems peeing, you could have interstitial cystitis, which is also known as ‘painful bladder syndrome’ or ‘bladder pain syndrome’.

Interstitial cystitis is not helped by antibiotics and your doctor may be able to suggest a number of treatments to reduce your symptoms.

There is no single cure for interstitial cystitis, but treatments include:

  • Reducing stress

  • Changing diet, including avoiding certain foods or alcohol

  • Stopping smoking

  • Regular toilet breaks to avoid bladder being too full

There is more help available from the Interstitial Cystitis Association https://www.ichelp.org/

If you are worried about your symptoms you can make an appointment to visit your GP. Alternatively, if you are a Benenden member you can call the 24-hour GP advice line to talk to a doctor. Find out more.

Sources: 

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cystitis/

https://sh24.org.uk/sexual-health/stis/cystitis-female