Cystitis is the term for the inflammation of the bladder. Since this inflammation is usually caused by an infection, many people use 'cystitis' interchangeably with 'UTI', 'bladder infection' and 'urine infection'.
It is an extremely common condition in the UK, affecting more than two million people in the UK alone each year. It most commonly affects women, largely due to the positioning of their urethra close to the anus.
Cystitis caused by infection is classed as a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). UTIs can broadly be split into two categories – Upper UTIs, involving the kidneys, and Lower UTIs which affect the bladder.
For some people, a UTI can be a one-off problem but, for many others, this can be an irritating and recurring problem, requiring a long-term solution to the condition.
Is cystitis the same in men and women?
Cystitis is simply an inflammation of the bladder, so it is the same in men and women.
However, unlike women, when men get cystitis it is often secondary to a prostate problem. Having an enlarged prostate can cause the urethra to narrow, making it difficult for urine to properly drain out of the bladder. Stagnant urine is a breeding ground for bacteria and so, until this pool has been drained, the problem is likely to continue.
What are the symptoms of cystitis?
Symptoms of cystitis can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, but should not be debilitating in any way. Most commonly cystitis is characterised by changes in urination, including:
If you are normally fit and healthy, with a strong immune system, symptoms will typically last about a week without any medical intervention. However, antibiotics for this condition are usually very effective, improving symptoms within a few days.
What causes cystitis?
Cystitis is usually caused by a bacterial infection, occurring when the wrong type of bacteria enters the bladder. This can occur because of bacteria being transferred from the anus to the urethra after going to the toilet, particularly when wiping from back to front. In a similar way, insertion of urinary catheters, tampons or contraceptive diaphragms can all provide an easy pathway for bacteria to enter the bladder, increasing the risk of developing cystitis.
Certain medical conditions can increase susceptibility to developing cystitis, including:
- Urine retention, often as a result of constipation or having an enlarged prostate.
- Diabetes, as elevated levels of sugar can cause bacteria to multiply more quickly than normal.
- Changes in bacterial balance in the urinary tract, such as after use of strongly scented soaps, or when going through the menopause.
Understanding the cause of your cystitis is important to enable prevention of future bouts of bladder infections.
What treatments are there for cystitis?
After a diagnosis of cystitis, usually after a urine test or bacterial swab, treatment often involves a short course of antibiotics to kill the harmful bacteria in the bladder. In some mild cases, this may not be necessary, and the condition will clear up quickly by itself.
Many people find that certain measures, such as using a hot water bottle, and drinking plenty of water can help to manage symptoms, making them feel more comfortable. Being extra vigilant about hygiene also helps to prevent a worsening of the condition.
There are also natural remedies to help with cystitis, which are a suitable alternative to antibiotics in some cases. These include Uva-ursi, which disinfects the bladder, and cranberry, which prevents bacteria from sticking to and multiplying on the wall of the urinary tract.
Read our blog for more on what the research says when it comes to Cranberry Juice for treating cystitis!
When should I go to the doctor with cystitis?
Only a trip to the doctor will allow for a proper diagnosis of cystitis, which is determined once the level of bacteria in the bladder rises over a certain threshold. A correct diagnosis can ensure that an appropriate treatment method is followed. It is often recommended that if you have not had a UTI before, you should visit a doctor, and equally if certain ‘red flag’ symptoms appear, then medical intervention is necessary. These symptoms include:
- Lower back pain
- Blood in the urine
In these cases, it is likely that a prescribed course of antibiotics will help to clear up the infection.