Cystitis means inflammation of the bladder and is usually caused by a bacterial infection. Cystitis is often used interchangeably with the term urinary tract infection (UTI), although technically cystitis is a subtype of the umbrella term UTI, which also includes infections in other parts of the kidney-bladder-urethra system to pass urine.
Common complaints are pain or burning on passing urine, needing to go more often and yet little may be passed, and racing to the loo with great urgency to pass urine.
Less common symptoms include stomach pain, blood in the urine or smelly urine. Cystitis is usually caused by certain bacteria, many of which occur naturally on your skin and in your gut. Owing to the close proximity of your waterworks to the bowel system, bacteria that are usually harmless in the poo or on your skin can contaminate the urinary system and cause a bladder infection.
UTIs including cystitis are common in women, with up to half of women developing them at some point in their life. It is more common in women than men due to a woman's anatomy – the urethra (pee pipe from the bladder to the outside) is shorter than a man’s, so less distance for the bacteria to travel to reach the bladder. For this reason, you should always wipe from front to back after doing a poo.
The chance of getting cystitis increases in pregnancy, women having sex or a change of sexual partner, those with diabetes and the elderly.
A lowered immune system, a catheter (an artificial tube inserted into the bladder) and any previous surgery on the urethra, all increase the risk of developing cystitis in both men and women.
Cystitis is not contagious and cannot be passed onto your partner during sex. But if you have symptoms, it’s a good idea to refrain from sex until you’re feeling better, as this can irritate the urethra.
Characterised by burning or acidity along with passing little urine volume despite the feeling of high urgency and frequency, cystitis and its associated symptoms can often clear just by drinking plenty of water to help dilute the acidic urine, and also flush out the bladder and urinary tract. Aim to drink about one pint of water every two hours, taking regular and frequent sips.
Sachets are available from any pharmacy containing sodium citrate or potassium citrate, which helps relieve the burning sensation by neutralising acidity, and helps get things back to normal. Cystitis relief sachets are made into a drink and taken three times a day for 48 hours. If your symptoms have not cleared in that timeframe you should see a doctor for further investigation.
You may be fit for work if you have very mild cystitis and feel well. But it's likely you will feel too uncomfortable to be at work and need easy access to a bathroom, in which case you can sign yourself off for a couple of days.
You should book an urgent appointment with your doctor if you are male, pregnant, or have severe symptoms. There’s a risk that cystitis can cause bigger problems, such as a kidney infection, sepsis, and symptoms may even point to a kidney stone. You should seek urgent medical advice if you develop a temperature above 37.8C, develop pain on one or both sides of your back, have blood in your urine or you feel very unwell.
It's unusual to have more than two episodes of cystitis in a year, so it’s worth booking a routine appointment with your doctor to investigate any cause.
When you see your doctor, they will ask about your symptoms and, if you are comfortable, examine your tummy. They are likely to ask for a urine sample to dip or send to the lab, so ask for a sample pot when you first get to the health centre. Depending on the possible diagnosis, blood tests, further urine tests, or imaging (ultrasound, X-ray, CT scan) could be carried out, or you may be referred to a specialist department.
The doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help recovery.
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