Stress and cystitis – is there a connection?
Suffering from recurrent cystitis can be frustrating, especially if you don’t understand what the root of the cause is. As with many conditions, understanding the cause is often a useful first step in managing the symptoms – otherwise, how would you know where to start?
Typically, cystitis is caused by an infection and in which case, bacteria is thought to be at the root of the cause. Although stress may still have a part to play if recurrent bacterial infections are your problem (as I’ll go on to discuss), in most cases, sorting your diet and lifestyle habits (drinking more water for one!) and with the help of some herbs and antibiotics in more severe cases, you’ll have the infection cleared up in no time.
However, when there is no infection present, for example in the case of interstitial cystitis, the root of the cause isn’t so well understood. But, is it possible that stress could be having an impact? In today’s blog I explore just that, and delve a little deeper into the possible connections between stress and cystitis.
How can stress exacerbate cystitis?
The connection between stress and cystitis isn’t something commonly recognised by the medical community, although research is ongoing and, for naturopaths, the connection is a little clearer. There are a number of possible mechanisms at play when it comes to stress and cystitis:
When you are stressed your eating habits can change
In times of stress you’re more likely to make poorer choices when it comes to your diet. Water is less likely to be top of mind and you might forget to hit your 1.5l daily quota if you’re rushing around frantically! Plus, you’re also much more likely to guzzle drinks higher in sugar, caffeine and alcohol and opt for convenience foods to keep you going if you’re feeling under pressure. These ingredients are all pro-inflammatory and you’ll only risk becoming dehydrated and fuelling any niggling infections.
Being stressed weakens your defences
In times of stress your immune functions can suffer making you more susceptible to bugs. We need your immune system to be in tip top condition to help detect any bad bacteria that could potentially take hold and cause an infection.
Stress fires up your sympathetic nervous system
In times of stress your sympathetic nervous system becomes dominant, which can have direct effects on your digestive system and urinary tract. In times of stress you need your bowel and bladder to be empty to allow you to be in the best physical condition possible (for running away or fighting which is what your body assumes we need to be preparing for in times of stress of course). This means you’ll most likely find you need the toilet more often, plus more urgently and, if chronic stress is a problem, then this can be problematic longer-term and cause ongoing irritation.
The chemical effects of stress
As well as the more physical effects of stress, could there also be a chemical influence? In short, yes. In times of stress we release a number of ‘stress’ hormones including corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) and research has suggested that this could play a part in symptoms of interstitial cystitis and having an overactive bladder1.
Stress can modulate your perception of pain
As well as the physical and chemical influence of stress, it seems that your sensitivity to pain can also increase during times of stress. This means that you may be much more aware of different niggles, and feel more sensitive to pain and discomfort2.
Some top tips for managing your symptoms
Now that we’ve explored some of the possible links between stress and cystitis, it’s time to outline some ways in which you can help yourself! With some of my tips, you can help to get those symptoms under control:
1. Firstly lets tackle the underlying cause – stress:
Dealing with stress is often easier said than done, but often a multidisciplinary approach can be useful. Some advice from me is as follows:
- Speak up! Whether it’s with a close friend, a colleague or a healthcare professional, speaking about your problems is a must. Not only will this in itself help to release some of the building tension, but it’s most likely that your confidant will be able to help you think more clearly and offer some solutions or at least point you in the direction of someone who can. Some practical steps and small changes can often make all the difference!
- Get some fresh air – Getting outdoors is also a great way to help manage stress. The fresh air is a good excuse to breathe more deeply which is instantly calming, plus being around nature can help support your mood too! Doing exercise outside is also a great option and means you’ll release calming, feel-good endorphins which are bound to leave you feeling more relaxed
- Reduce your use of habitual stimulants – People often underestimate the power of foods or drinks when it comes to them ramping up your stress or anxiety levels, and these can easily become a part of your daily routine in our modern-day, hectic lives. Refined sugar, alcohol and caffeine can all have effects on your innate stress responses and blood sugar levels, and can easily leave you feeling jittery and anxious as a result. Make some simple swaps and feel the difference
- Try a herbal remedy – Sometimes we need a little helping hand to get stress or anxiety under control and calming herbs such as Valerian or Hops can help to do just that. Try our Stress Relief Daytime Drops to help you cope that little bit better under times of pressure.
2. Support your immune system
If you’re all stressed out then it’s likely that your immune functions could be suffering as a result. Recurrent head colds and cold sores are more readily accepted as signs of people being ‘run down,’ but we now know that cystitis may be an indicator to look out for too! Support yourself during high risk times with some Echinaforce.
3. Target the problem head on with Uva-ursi
If recurrent infections are a problem for you then a good dose of Uva-ursi should help get you back on track. Take this up to 5 times daily whilst keeping your intake of water up and decreasing you intake of inflammatory foods and drinks. Cranberry complex and Golden Rod Tea are also good options to help support your urinary tract longer term. Best of luck!
1. Lai H, Gardner V, Vetter J and Andriole GL. Correlation between psychological stress levels and the severity of overactive bladder symptoms. BMC Urol, 2015, 15(14),
2. Ahmad AH and Zakaria R. Pain in times of stress. Malays J Med Sci, 2015, 22, (52-61)