Cystitis can be a painful, unpleasant and even debilitating condition – having to drink glass after glass of water and use the bathroom every 10 minutes makes it difficult to go any further than your living room! For a few days this is manageable, if a bit annoying. For some, however, cystitis is a recurring condition that just keeps coming back.
Recurrent cystitis usually means two infections within six months, or three in a year. In some cases, they can occur much more frequently than that.
What could be causing it?
Cystitis is the term used for the inflammation of the bladder, and this inflammation is most commonly caused by a bladder infection. Some people are naturally just more prone to developing cystitis without any real cause.
However, there are also a number of more specific causes that you should look out for, as knowing the cause makes it easier to prevent.
1) Not fully recovering from the previous infection. I’m sure most of us have been there – as soon as the burning sensation and constant need to pee disappears we ditch the cranberry juice, our water intake drops right down and we get on with our usual routine. However, this can be a bit hasty, as at this point there may still be some bacteria left in the bladder that can quickly begin to multiply again if you aren’t careful.
2) Not fully emptying the bladder. There are a number of reasons why you might not be fully emptying your bladder, including obstructions in the urethra. If you often feel like you still need to pee after emptying your bladder, the best course of action would be to consult your doctor, who may refer you for an ultrasound of your bladder.
3) Sex. Yes, that’s right; sex can, unfortunately, cause cystitis. This is a really easy way to spread bacteria into the urethra. As well as this, sex can cause irritation, damage or bruising to the bladder wall and the urethra, causing inflammation. This is sometimes referred to as ‘Honeymoon cystitis’ and often occurs when having sex for the first time, or after having sex for the first time in a while.
4) Diet. Poor diet has a really important role in the development of cystitis. Bacteria feed off sugar, so eating too much sugary food can cause recurring cystitis. This also means that diabetes can be a problem, because diabetics often have more sugar in their urine than most people. For more information, read my diet tips for cystitis.
5) Poor Hygiene. I’m not accusing you of never washing! Just that sometimes people who are prone to cystitis need to be extra careful about hygiene when it comes to this area, because it is so easy for bacteria to transfer to the urethra and up into the bladder.
6) Disruption to intimate and gut flora. Our bodies are naturally home to a whole host of bacteria, and usually our friendly bacteria have the important responsibility of helping to keep our bad bacteria in check. However, things like antibiotics, poor diet or an over-use of antibacterial soap can alter this balance, and leave bad bacteria free to multiply.
7) Poor immune function. If your cystitis is caused by repeated infections, then it might be that your immune system isn’t working to its maximum potential.
Some people are unfortunately just naturally more prone to developing cystitis; the good news is that there are still a number of preventative measures you can take regardless of the cause.
Tips to reduce the chance of cystitis returning
Here are my top tips for reducing the chances of cystitis returning. It may be worth trying a few, particularly if you aren’t sure what is causing your recurring symptoms.
- Make sure to continue treatment, such as drinking plenty of water, for several days after your symptoms have stopped, and always finish any antibiotic treatment your doctor has prescribed. This will reduce the chances of it returning the next week, and help prevent the development of resistant strains
- Increase your daily intake of water. This is possibly the most important prevention method! Drinking more water means that you empty your bladder more frequently, giving bacteria little time to multiply, but it also makes urine less concentrated and so less irritating to the bladder wall
- Make sure to urinate soon after sex to flush out any bacteria that have crept up your urethra. It is important to flush these out before they reach the bladder to prevent infection
- Improve your diet. Reduce your intake of refined sugar, processed foods, and inflammatory substances such as alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods. Eat more complex carbohydrates, fruit, vegetables, seeds and nuts to ensure you get the right nutrients for your body. For more information see my diet tips for cystitis
- Be careful to wipe front to back after using the toilet, and insert tampons with clean hands
- Take a probiotic and prebiotic supplement. Probiotics will help replace your good bacteria to naturally keep bad bacteria in check. Optibac have a great range – I recommend a combination of For Women and For Every Day. For Women is scientifically proven to reach the intimate area alive, while For Everyday will help keep your gut bacteria happy. In addition to this, taking Molkosan will help to create an environment in your body in which good bacteria can thrive
- Avoid washing your intimate area with harsh chemicals and perfumed soaps, as these not only irritate the urethra, but they can also disrupt your balance of bacteria. Stick to warm water, and if you really want to use soap, make sure it is natural and perfume free
- Take a good quality Cranberry Juice or our Cranberry Complex tablets daily for long-term help in the prevention of cystitis. Cranberry Complex contains fresh cranberries, which help prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall, as well as other bladder-friendly herbs such as Golden Rod. When taken every day this helps to reduce the chances of an infection starting in your bladder
- Avoid tight clothing such as tights and leggings, and opt for cotton underwear
- Try washing your underwear and towels more thoroughly – a 60 degree wash instead of a 40 degree wash for underwear, and 90 degrees instead of 60 for towels
- Change your towel frequently. Take a clean towel every day if you can, if not then every couple of days should be fine provided you allow your towel to dry properly in between (not crumpled up in a damp pile on the floor!). Air drying in a well-ventilated room works, or tumble drying if you have one
- Take Uva-ursi daily following a bout of cystitis to clear up any lingering infection. This herb activates in the bladder, helping to cleanse it and prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder walls.
Like I said, there are loads of reasons why you might be struggling with cystitis, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing something wrong or that you are unclean – unfortunately some people are just more susceptible to infection!
Try as many of these measures as you can to see which ones work. It may be that there are a few contributing factors to your symptoms so a combination of preventative measures usually works best.
If nothing seems to help your cystitis, consult your GP. They will be able to do a number of tests to make sure everything is working okay, including ultrasounds and urine analysis. They can prescribe you antibiotics which help relieve the infection quickly, but it is not very healthy to take them regularly for recurring cystitis.
If no cause can be found, it may be that you are suffering from interstitial cystitis. Click the link for more information.