Why is cystitis more common in women?
Cystitis is a common but mild infection of the bladder that often clears up by itself within a few days. Women are more likely to suffer from cystitis: around 40% of women will have cystitis at some point in their lives. But why is this the case? In this blog, I'll cover:
- Anatomy differences
- Feminine hygiene products
I take a look at why these might make women more likely to suffer from cystitis, and offer some natural solutions.
1. Anatomy differences
Cystitis most often occurs when harmless bacteria find their way into the bladder, multiply and lead to infection, which can cause inflammation and irritation. These bacteria can be found on the skin or in the bowel and do not tend to cause trouble until they find themselves somewhere they shouldn't be, like your bladder.
For women, this is more likely to happen as the anus is closer to the opening of the vagina, which makes it easier for bacteria to get into the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder when you pee).
On top of this, the urethra is much shorter in women than in men, so bacteria don't have far to travel to reach the bladder. Because of this, it's recommended that you always wipe front to back after using the toilet.
2. Feminine hygiene products
Feminine hygiene products have also been linked to issues like cystitis. Tampons might contribute to the spreading of unwanted bacteria from other areas into the vagina and could also cause tissue trauma, while research has linked feminine soaps, lubricants and wipes to a higher prevalence of symptoms associated with UTIs such as itching, burning and irritation.1
Researchers in this study suggested that these products may disrupt the balance of healthy bacteria that need to be present in order to fight off unwanted bacteria that could potentially lead to infection.
It is thought that the same goes for perfumed soaps and bodywashes, which could potentially cause irritation. When it comes to female hygiene, plain, unscented soap and water is best. You might also want to try unbleached sanitary products, like these cotton tampons from Jan de Vries.
Hot flushes, sore joints and tiredness aren't the only symptoms some women are unlucky enough to be faced with during menopause – bladder infections are also on the list.
As oestrogen falls, the lining of the urethra can shrink and become thinner, which could increase the likelihood of contracting infections, and spreading bacteria to the bladder.
The vagina also tends to thin and produce less mucus during menopause and beyond, which can increase susceptibility to infection as this mucus usually protects against bacteria.
If you're sexually active, this can increase your risk of suffering from cystitis. Sex can create friction, which can cause tissue damage and irritation of the genital area, another common cause of cystitis.
Certain contraceptives like diaphragms or spermicide might also irritate the urethra and contribute to the spread of bacteria, and are best avoided if you suffer from regular bouts of cystitis.
It's also thought best to pee straight after sex to prevent the spread of contaminants from one area to another.
Cystitis can also be caused by not fully emptying your bladder when you pee. For pregnant women, this can be made difficult if the baby is pressing on the bladder and causing discomfort. For this reason, women may suffer from cystitis or bladder irritation during pregnancy.