What can make cystitis worse?

7 things that can make cystitis worse



Naturopath, Herbalist and Yoga teacher (BA, Dip Nat, Dip Herb)
@NerdyNaturopath
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30 September 2021

What can make cystitis worse?

Dehydration, alcohol, coffee and sugar intake, sex and stress can all make your cystitis worse, and more painful. For some women, cystitis feels worse during their period, while for others hot baths and bath products such as bubble bath and body wash can all irritate an infection and potentially make it worse.

7 things that can make cystitis worse

So, let's take a closer look at some things that can make your cystitis worse and why they may be contributing to recurrent UTIs.

1. Dehydration

When you are dehydrated your urine becomes more concentrated which means it can further irritate your burning urinary tract. The more water you drink, the more diluted your urine is, the less painful your pees will be!

Hydration is so important for our health and a study in the JAMA Internal Medicine peer-reviewed medical journal showed that women who drank 1.5 L of water daily in addition to their normal fluid intake had fewer episodes of cystitis and used fewer antibiotics compared to the control group.(1

When you have an active bladder infection, drinking more water can potentially help too. Often referred to as 'flushing out the UTI', the idea is that by drinking more water you can help to move the bacteria through your system and out via the urine.

2. Alcohol and coffee

Alcohol has a double whammy effect of dehydrating you (see above!) and making your urine more acidic, and thus more painful! Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but so does coffee!

Try a sugar-free cranberry mocktail by simply adding some fizzy water to Biotta's cranberry juice, if you want a treat on a Friday night; and try a delicious coffee alternative like Bambu.

Giving both coffee and alcohol up altogether will help prevent recurrent UTIs, but even just avoiding them while you have an infection can help.

3. Sugar

A diet high in sugar can have harmful effects on your immune system.(2This means that if you have cystitis, eating a lot of sugar can prolong an infection because your immune system won't be able to work as well to fight off the infection. It also means that if you regularly eat a lot of sugar you are more likely to get recurrent UTIs.

When I talk about sugar, it's not just the sugar in your tea or on your cereal, but hidden in the ingredients of things like yoghurt, pasta sauces and baked beans. It also refers to products made from refined flours, cakes and pastries of course, but also white bread and pasta.

4. Sex

Sex is a common cause of UTIs. If you are prone to getting UTIs, you've probably heard the advice to pee directly after having sex to avoid an infection. However, if you already have an infection, having sex can be painful and can exacerbate cystitis symptoms. If you do have sex during an active infection definitely pee afterwards!

5. Stress

Stress reduces immune function and can make us more prone to getting an infection.(3) Stress can also make the symptoms of cystitis feel worse. Have you ever experienced nervous peeing where you consistently feel like you need to go just because you are stressed? Stress has a direct effect on the urinary tract and can make you need to pee more often, and lower your pain tolerance during an infection.(4

Meditation is a proven way to reduce stress levels.(5) If meditation is new to you, try downloading an app like Insight Time or Headspace to help you get started. Even a few minutes a day can help!

Herbal remedies like Passiflora, Valerian, Lemon balm and Avena sativa can be wonderful allies in reducing stress, and can be taken while you have a UTI, or as ongoing remedies if stress is contributing to your cystitis.

6. Period

Some women are more prone to cystitis during menstruation. And while burning urination is never fun, it can be particularly loathsome when you have your period. The first thing to note is that menstruation in and of itself is not dirty and does not cause infection. However, if menstrual products like pads or tampons aren't changed regularly this can cause an infection.

If you have particularly bad cramps while having a bout of cystitis during your period, that can lead to a whole load of uncomfortable sensations in your pelvic region. Valerian, which is often sold for stress and sleep, is also a great herb for reducing cramps during your period; so, if cramps are worsening your cystitis symptoms give Valerian a try!

If you're curious about the link between periods and cystitis, I have a whole blog topic you can check out to learn more.

7. Baths

For some women, hot baths can be too intense during a UTI and can make the symptoms seem worse. For others, hot water can ease the pain. So is it a good idea to have a bath when you have cystitis? Well, that is up to you!

A bath itself isn't going to make a UTI worse but many bath products, whether bubble baths, bath bombs, or just body wash or shampoo, can all irritate an infection and potentially make it worse. If you want to have a bath, or even when you are showering, it is best to use natural products with minimal chemical ingredients. Usually, these are the ones you will find in a health store, rather than those in the supermarket!

What can help cystitis?

Several things can help prevent or ease cystitis, including the following wonderful herbal medicines:

Uva-ursi

Uva-ursi, or bearberry, is a traditional herbal remedy for treating UTIs. It's fast-acting and has an antibacterial effect directly in the urinary tract. Unlike antibiotics, it does not trigger thrush.

The antibiotics properties seem to be due to a compound called arbutin, but as it is a whole plant extract it has lots of other side benefits too, rather than side effects. It has astringent properties and contains allantoin, which helps to heal inflamed and irritated urinary passages.

It is recommended to take Uva-ursi for one week, and symptoms should improve after just 4 days of use. If symptoms do not improve it is important to see your doctor, as a bladder infection can become a kidney infection which can be quite serious.

Echinacea

Echinacea is a great antibacterial and anti-inflammatory herb which is used to treat many infections. It is well-known as a remedy for colds and flu, but it is also effective in treating urinary tract infections. Its antibacterial properties help to fight the infection, and its anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting properties will help prevent a reoccurrence.


My Top Tip: Take at first sign of infection


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What's being asked

Will changing my diet help with cystitis?

There are many helpful things you can do diet-wise to reduce the likelihood of cystitis. • Drink ...
Read more >

Is cystitis infectious?

No, it’s a bacterial infection that cannot be caught and cannot spread to another person. It may ...
Read more >

How is cystitis diagnosed?

A urine sample is given to the doctor, who sends it for testing. A urinary tract infection is ...
Read more >

Can cystitis and thrush be linked?

If you suffer from both recurring thrush and cystitis, or find that when you develop one, the other follows soon after, you’ll know how frustrating it can be.

Find out what the link is

Here’s what I recommend

Emma our women's health advisor recommends Uva-ursi complex to help ease symptoms of cystitis and cranberry to maintain bladder health.

Learn more

Did you know?

Cystitis is sometimes known as ‘honeymoon cystitis’. Why? Well, during sex, bacteria can spread from the perineum to the urethral opening. The risk of developing cystitis is therefore increased depending on the frequency you have intercourse (sorry honeymooners!).

7 reasons you keep getting cystitis

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