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What is cystitis?

Cystitis is a common condition, particularly in women, but it can affect anyone, including children. It’s when your bladder becomes inflamed, and can cause pain and discomfort.

The most common cause of cystitis is a urinary tract infection (UTI), when bacteria gets into your urethra - the tube that your urine comes out of when you go to the toilet - and multiplies. If it’s only mild, cystitis will often clear up on its own, but if it’s more severe, or if you have recurrent infections, treatment may be needed.

Cystitis can lead to a kidney infection, which can be very serious, so you should see a doctor if you’ve had the infection for more than a week, if your symptoms are severe, or if you regularly get infections.

On some occasions, cystitis may be caused by something other than an infection, such as irritation, or even damage to your bladder, or as a complication of another condition.

Symptoms of cystitis in adults

Cystitis symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the person and type of infection.

Symptoms of cystitis can include:

  • a burning or stinging sensation when you pass urine
  • feeling like you need to pass urine a lot
  • not passing much urine when you have the sensation to go
  • feeling like you can’t fully empty your bladder
  • blood in your urine - this can make it pink, red or brown
  • dark, cloudy urine
  • strong smelling urine
  • pain in your pelvic area
  • feeling unwell
  • feeling confused (common in older people)

If you have pain near your kidneys, on your back and sides or a high temperature, chills or vomiting, it could be a sign of a kidney infection. You should see a GP as soon as possible if you have these symptoms, as a kidney infection can be dangerous if left untreated. You should also see a GP if you can see blood in your urine.

Symptoms of cystitis in children

You should speak to a GP if you think your child may have cystitis. Symptoms of cystitis in children, babies and toddlers can include:

  • a burning, stinging sensation when they pass urine
  • feeling like they need to pass urine a lot
  • not passing much urine when they have the sensation to go
  • feeling like they can’t fully empty their bladder
  • blood in their urine - this can make it pink, red or brown
  • dark, cloudy urine
  • strong smelling urine
  • pain in their pelvic area
  • feeling unwell and irritable
  • wetting the bed
  • being weak or overly tired
  • loss of appetite or feeling sick
  • being sick

Getting a cystitis diagnosis

In many cases, cystitis will get better on its own after a few days and you won’t normally require any medical treatment. However, if your symptoms do not improve, or if you’ve never had the condition before, it’s a good idea to see a GP. If it’s a child who is showing the symptoms, it is also a good idea to see a GP.

The doctor will ask about the symptoms you’re experiencing, including questions such as whether you have pain when you go to the toilet. It’s really important that you answer these questions honestly, so that our doctor can prescribe you the most effective treatment, if necessary.

It’s particularly important to see a GP if you:

  • are pregnant
  • are male
  • think your child, or someone elderly you're caring for has a UTI
  • notice your urine is red, brown or light pink in colour, as this is a sign of blood
  • have recurrent infections, despite treatment
  • your symptoms are getting worse

Some people can experience recurrent infections - be sure to mention this to a GP if this is the case.

Cystitis can sometimes lead to an infection in the kidneys. This can be serious and cause permanent damage if not treated. Speak to a doctor urgently if you:

  • have pain near your kidneys - on your back, side or groin area
  • are vomiting
  • have a fever

What are the causes of cystitis?

Cystitis is caused by bacteria, usually from your poo, infecting your urinary tract. The bacteria gets into your body through the urethra (which is the tube that your urine comes out of when you go to the toilet), where it can then multiply and spread.

A woman’s urethra is shorter than a man’s and very close to the anus, which is why they are more prone to getting cystitis. The bacteria does not have as far to travel to reach the bladder or kidneys.

Some people may be more likely to get a cystitis than others. This includes if you:

  • are pregnant
  • are older
  • are sexually active or have a new sexual partner
  • use certain methods of birth control - a contraceptive diaphragm or spermicidal agents can lead to infections
  • have previously had a UTI
  • are dehydrated
  • don’t empty your bladder fully when you go to the toilet
  • don’t wipe yourself properly when going to the toilet (always go front to back)
  • have a condition that means you cannot fully empty your bladder, such as an enlarged prostate in men or bladder stones
  • have a weakened immune system caused by a condition such as diabetes or treatment such as chemotherapy
  • use perfumed soap or shower gel
  • have poor personal hygiene
  • have been through the menopause
  • use a catheter
  • were born with an abnormal urinary tract

Cystitis can occur for other reasons, such as irritation or damage to the bladder.

How is cystitis treated?

Mild cases of cystitis may not need treatment from a medical professional. Often, the infection will clear up on its own after a few day. You can try:

  • using over-the-counter pain medication - for a child, use medication that is designed for children and follow the dosage on the packaging correctly
  • getting plenty of rest
  • drinking plenty of water to help your body flush out the bacteria
  • avoiding drinks that can aggravate your bladder, such as coffee, alcohol or citrus based drinks
  • using a hot water bottle on your stomach or back to help soothe pain
  • avoiding having sex until you have fully recovered

If this doesn’t work, or your symptoms are severe, see a GP.

Antibiotics

The most common treatment for severe or recurrent cystitis is antibiotics. In the majority of cases, this should clear the infection up within 3 days.

In some cases, the doctor may want to conduct further tests, in order to identify the bacteria in your urine and prescribe an effective antibiotic to get rid of it.

If you are prescribed antibiotics, it is really important to complete the course you are given, even if you start to feel better. Not doing so could mean the infection is not properly treated, and your symptoms could come back.

If you experience recurring cystitis, if you are a man or if you are pregnant, you may be prescribed a longer course of antibiotics.

Common home remedies that won’t cure cystitis

Cystitis is a condition that attracts a variety of ‘cures’ you can try at home. However, many of them don’t offer a solution to the problem at all! We’ve look at some of the common ones below.

Cranberry juice

This is the most well-known piece of advice associated with cystitis. Sadly though, plenty of studies have shown that the effect of cranberry juice on treating or preventing infections is actually very small.

There is a small amount of evidence it can help but it shouldn’t be used as a treatment. It won’t do any harm, but it’s not enough to be effective on its own.

Baking soda

The idea behind this is to change the acidity in your urinary tract, to discourage bacteria from spreading. However, again, there is not actually any evidence that suggests this actually works.

Apple cider vinegar

Used for the same reasons as baking soda, apple cider vinegar can actually make cystitis feel worse. Once the infection sets in an acidic vinegar is that last thing you want coming into contact with the irritated lining of your urinary tract.