Cystitis

Common symptoms of cystitis include pain when peeing, needing to pee more often than usual and pain low down in your tummy.

Cystitis may get better by itself in a few days. Drinking plenty of water and taking painkillers can help. Some people need to take antibiotics.

Cystitis is usually caused by bacteria from your bowel or skin getting into your bladder. Sexually active women can get cystitis regularly.

Things you can do that may help prevent cystitis include staying well hydrated and going for a pee soon after having sex.

Signs and symptoms of cystitis

The main symptoms of cystitis include:

  • pain, burning or stinging when you pee
  • needing to pee more often and urgently than normal
  • urine that's dark, cloudy or strong smelling
  • pain low down in your tummy
  • feeling generally unwell, achy, sick and tired

Possible symptoms in young children include:

  • pain in their tummy
  • needing to pee urgently or more often
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C or above
  • weakness or irritability
  • reduced appetite and vomiting

What causes cystitis?

Most cases are thought to occur when bacteria that live harmlessly in the bowel or on the skin get into the bladder through the tube that carries urine out of your body (urethra).

It's not always clear how this happens.

But some things can increase your risk of getting it, including:

  • having sex
  • wiping your bottom from back to front after going to the toilet
  • having a thin tube inserted into the urethra to drain the bladder (urinary catheter)
  • being younger than 1 or older than 75
  • being pregnant
  • using a diaphragm for contraception
  • having diabetes
  • having a weakened immune system

Women may get cystitis more often than men because their bottom (anus) is closer to their urethra and their urethra is much shorter, which means bacteria may be able to get into the bladder more easily.

How you can treat cystitis yourself

If you have been having mild symptoms for less than 3 days or you have had cystitis before and do not feel you need to see a GP, you may want to treat your symptoms at home or ask a pharmacist for advice.

Until you're feeling better, it may help to:

  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • drink plenty of water
  • hold a hot water bottle on your tummy or between your thighs
  • avoid having sex
  • pee frequently
  • wipe from front to back when you go to the toilet
  • gently wash around your genitals with a skin-sensitive soap

Some people believe that cranberry drinks and products that reduce the acidity of their urine (such as sodium bicarbonate or potassium citrate) will help.

But there's a lack of evidence to suggest they're effective.

Treatments for cystitis from a GP

If you see a GP and they diagnose you with cystitis, you'll usually be prescribed a course of antibiotics to treat the infection.

These should start to have an effect within a day or 2.

If you keep getting cystitis, a GP may give you an antibiotic prescription to take to a pharmacy whenever you develop symptoms, without needing to see a doctor first.

Your GP can also prescribe a low dose of antibiotics for you to take continuously over several months.

Preventing cystitis

If you get cystitis frequently, there are some things you can try that may stop it coming back.

But it's not clear how effective most of these measures are.

These measures include:

  • not using perfumed bubble bath, soap or talcum powder around your genitals (use plain unperfumed varieties)
  • having a shower, rather than a bath (this avoids exposing your genitals to the chemicals in your cleaning products for too long)
  • going to the toilet as soon as you need to pee and always emptying your bladder fully
  • staying well hydrated (drinking plenty of fluids may help to stop bacteria multiplying in your bladder)
  • always wiping your bottom from front to back when you go to the toilet
  • emptying your bladder as soon as possible after having sex
  • not using a diaphragm for contraception (you may wish to use another method of contraception instead)
  • wearing underwear made from cotton, rather than synthetic material, such as nylon, and not wearing tight jeans and trousers

Drinking cranberry juice has traditionally been recommended as a way of reducing your chances of getting cystitis.

But large studies have suggested it does not make a significant difference.

[Last reviewed 2018-08-09]
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