Causes of Cystitis


What does cystitis feel like?

One of the first tell-tale signs of cystitis is a burning or stinging sensation when passing urine. This can range from a faint prickling to a painful searing every time you urinate. 

Another common symptom is a stronger and more frequent need to pass water. You may start feeling like you can’t empty your bladder no matter what, resulting in relentless runs to the loo with only small amounts of urine coming out. 

As the inflammation progresses, you may also experience pain in the lower abdomen area, including cramping in your belly or back. This might also be coupled with tiredness or feeling generally unwell. 

How long does cystitis last?

Though cystitis can become incredibly painful, the good news is that it’s relatively easy and quick to treat. In most cases, a short three to seven-day course of antibiotics will help ease symptoms and clear up the infection. The exact duration can vary depending on the situation.

You’ll usually begin to feel better within 24 hours of starting the treatment, and symptoms typically disappear altogether after three days. At any rate, it’s essential to take all the antibiotics to make sure the infection has completely gone away. If the antibiotics don’t help and your symptoms aren’t improving after two to three days, you should contact your GP for further consultation. 

Symptoms and Signs of Cystitis

The symptoms and signs of cystitis can vary from person to person. It all depends on the type of cystitis you have and how severe your specific case is. Generally speaking, you’re likely to experience pain, burning or stinging when you pee. Your urine could look different in appearance, smell, and texture. For example, it could be dark, cloudy, or smelly.

You may also need to pass water more often and urgently compared to usual. However, you may find that when the time comes to relieve yourself, only a small amount of wee comes out.

Even though this can be nothing short of frustrating, it’s not a cause for concern. When the bladder becomes inflamed during a bout of cystitis, it will signal to your brain that it needs to be emptied—even if it's not full. The good news is that this feeling will go away once the infection has been treated.

What are the early signs of cystitis?

Alongside discomfort when you pee and a strong urge to urinate more frequently, other early symptoms of cystitis include pain, pressure or discomfort in your lower abdomen. You may also have a low-grade fever and generally feel unwell. For instance, you could feel sick, tired, and achy, making it hard for you to go about your daily activities.

Why do I have cloudy or smelly urine?

When you’re healthy and hydrated on an average day, your wee should be clear or pale yellow in colour. Cystitis can commonly cause cloudy or milky-looking urine. Or if your wee has a foul smell, this can also indicate infection. What causes the cloudiness of your urine when you have cystitis? Well, this is typically down to discharge of either pus or blood in the urinary tract. 

If you experience cloudy or smelly urine in the absence of other UTI symptoms, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have cystitis. Sometimes the food you eat or the medication you take can affect the colour and odour of your urine. If there’s noticeable blood in your urine and you notice any of the following signs and symptoms, it would be worth getting checked out by your GP:

  • Fever and chills

  • Nausea and vomiting 

  • Back or side pain

  • Painful urination that lasts for several hours or longer

It could be that your case of cystitis has become slightly more complicated.

Cystitis Treatment and Cure 

What are the cures for cystitis?

If you have a mild case of cystitis, it will usually clear up on its own within a few days. Sometimes you may need to take antibiotics to treat the infection, but not always.

Either way, there are a few things you can try doing to speed up the healing process:

  • Drink plenty of water to “flush out” the infection

  • Go to the loo frequently and wipe from front to back every time

  • Don’t have sex until you’re better because it can make the condition feel worse

Because you can feel generally unwell with cystitis, you should also rest up as much as possible.

What is the most effective cystitis medication?

 Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat cystitis, the most common antibiotics that are taken for cystitis are trimethoprim, fluoroquinolone, or nitrofurantoin. The great thing about these antibiotics is that they normally start to work quite quickly. In fact, you may find that your symptoms ease within a couple of days!

What else can you take for cystitis other than antibiotics?

 If you’ve had mild cystitis for less than three days, you may find that you can relieve your symptoms just by taking over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol. You can also carry on taking painkillers alongside your medication if your doctor has already prescribed antibiotics for your specific case.

Additionally, some women find taking dissolvable cystitis sachets a big help. These contain sodium citrate or potassium citrate, which can be effective in relieving cystitis symptoms.

How do you relieve cystitis pain?

Regardless of whether you’ve been prescribed antibiotics or not, you can take ibuprofen or paracetamol to relieve any pain that you’re experiencing because of cystitis. As well as taking painkillers consistently, try these tactics to reduce discomfort: 

  • Hold a hot water bottle between your thighs or on your tummy

  • Wear loose cotton underwear to let your downstairs breathe

  • Avoid wearing tight jeans, leggings or trousers

  • Keep your bits as clean as you can by washing them gently in the shower or bath using a skin-sensitive soap

You may also want to avoid drinking alcohol, fruit juice and caffeine, which can irritate the lining of your bladder and worsen your symptoms.

 What are some natural remedies for cystitis?

 Some women may choose to drink alkaline water if they have cystitis. Why? Well, it’s believed that it can keep you hydrated, increase the pH of your urine, and minimise infection-causing bacteria.

Another option is to mix bicarbonate soda with water. This drink allows the alkaline solution to reach your bladder, making your urine less acidic and stopping the bacteria from multiplying.

 Many women swear by drinking cranberry juice as a way of relieving cystitis, although there is a lack of evidence to suggest its effectiveness. It all depends on what works best for you.

Cystitis Causes

What is the most common cause of cystitis?

Urinary tract infections are the most common bacterial infection in women worldwide. Unfortunately, more than half of women experience urinary infections such as cystitis at least once in their lifetime. One in three go through clinically significant cases, and one in four suffer from recurring infections. In fact, 27% to 46% of women who have had one urinary infection are likely to develop another within a year of infection!

The reason women are so susceptible to cystitis is mainly due to the female anatomy. 

How come? Well, women have a shorter urethra, which is the tube responsible for carrying urine out of the body from the bladder. This means that bacteria have a shorter distance to travel from the outside of the body to the bladder. The urethral, vaginal and anal openings are also very close to one another, making it easier for bacteria to spread and ultimately enter the bladder. 

Furthermore, female sex hormones affect the ability of bacteria to survive in vaginal secretions. This makes women even more prone to infection, depending on their sexual activity and menstrual cycle stages. A woman is also more likely to get cystitis during pregnancy, after menopause, or following a total hysterectomy.

What are the causes of cystitis in females?

Even though bacteria such as E.coli are the most common cause of cystitis, there are some things that can increase the risk of a woman having cystitis, including:

  • Being sexually active

  • Being pregnant

  • Being past menopause

  • Using diaphragms with spermicide in them

  • Having diabetes, HIV, or kidney stones

  • An injury to the spine

  • A previous urinary tract infection (UTI)

There are also some other causes that aren’t quite so common. These consist of:

  • Chemotherapy drugs

  • Radiation to treat cancer around your pelvis

  • Chemicals in personal care items, like soaps, spermicides, and bubble baths

  • Using a catheter (a tube that empties pee from your bladder)

  • Damage from bladder surgery

Essentially, anything affecting the flow of pee could result in cystitis. It’s important to note that some women have a condition called interstitial cystitis. This is where the bladder is always inflamed and there are no signs of an infection, meaning that it can be difficult to treat.

Can antibiotics cause cystitis?

No, antibiotics do not cause cystitis.

Can having sex cause cystitis?

Having sex can be one of the causes of urinary tract infections in women.

This is largely in part due to the fact that a woman’s urethra is located near the rectum. During sexual activity, bacteria can be pushed into the urethra from the rectum by you or your partner’s genitals, hands, mouth, or a sex toy.

How do you prevent getting cystitis after sex in the first place? Ultimately, practising good sexual hygiene and peeing before and after sex can flush out any bacteria and significantly reduce the risk. You may want to avoid sex if you already have cystitis as it may aggravate your symptoms.

Can drinking alcohol cause cystitis?

Drinking alcohol on its own doesn’t cause cystitis. The truth is, alcohol can increase the acidity of your urine and potentially irritate the lining of your bladder. If you experience regular UTIs , you may consider reducing the amount of alcohol you drink. Likewise, if you’ve been diagnosed with a UTI or suspect you have one, try to avoid drinking alcohol until your symptoms disappear and you feel better.

Is it always E. coli bacteria that causes cystitis?

The most common bacteria found to cause UTIs is Escherichia coli (E. coli). It usually lives harmlessly in the human intestinal tract and doesn’t cause an issue unless it gets into the urethra. If E. coli gets into the urethra, it can then get into your bladder and inflame it, resulting in cystitis. Other bacteria can cause a UTI, but E. coli is to blame around 90% of the time. You may need to take certain antibiotics to treat cystitis when it’s caused by any type of bacterial infection.

Can you pass on cystitis?

Cystitis isn’t regarded as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), or a contagious condition. Therefore, you cannot pass it on.

Cystitis Prevention

Although cystitis is remarkably common, there are a few simple habits you can adopt to help keep your bladder healthy and prevent future infections. 

First, stay hydrated and drink plenty of water throughout the day to ensure your urine doesn’t become too concentrated.  

Second, listen to your body’s cues and keep a regular bladder schedule. Make sure you empty your bladder completely every time you go, and don’t wait too long to wee or try to hold on. 

Third, sex and urinary infections are unquestionably linked, especially among women. Practising good sexual hygiene has been shown to reduce the risks, including peeing before and after sex and using a lubricant to reduce friction.

Practising good hygiene, in general, in the following ways can decrease the risk of cystitis:

  • Wash your private parts gently with unperfumed soaps

  • Have showers rather than baths, which will avoid exposing your bits to the chemicals in your personal care products for too long

  • Wear cotton underwear rather than synthetic (such as nylon) that are kinder to the skin around your genitals

  • Avoid wearing tight jeans and trousers that restrict your downstairs area

Lastly, remember that cystitis is most commonly caused by a bacterial infection, otherwise known as a urinary tract infection (UTI). This bacteria is typically E. coli, which lives on your skin and in your intestines.

Because there’s a higher chance of bacteria getting into the urethra and vagina from the rectum when you wipe from back to front after doing a number two, don’t forget to wipe from front to back!

If you need to take antibiotics for cystitis, a doctor may prescribe a three-, seven- or ten-day course. This means you would take a tablet or capsule two to four times a day for at least three days.

The most common antibiotics that are taken for cystitis are trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, fluoroquinolone, or nitrofurantoin. The great thing about these antibiotics is that they normally start to work quite quickly. In fact, you may find that your symptoms ease within a couple of days!

Types of cystitis

Bacterial cystitis

Bacterial cystitis refers to a condition in which inflammation of the bladder is primarily caused by a bacterial infection. This can occur when either bacteria from outside the body enter the urinary tract through the urethra.

Most cases of bacterial cystitis are caused by a type of Escherichia coli (E.coli) bacterium that lives in the intestines and thrives in the anus area. When these bacteria enter the urinary system, they begin to multiply and trigger an infection. As such, women are far more likely than men to get these infections due to their anatomy.

In women, the urethra (through which urine comes out) is closer to the rectum. Therefore, bacteria can more easily spread from one place to another. The bladder’s swelling and irritation during an active bacterial infection typically lead to a series of well-known symptoms, including cloudy or dark-colored urine, a burning sensation when peeing, pain in the lower abdomen, and an overpowering, more frequent urge to wee. 

Treating bacterial cystitis is relatively straightforward. A three-day course of antibiotics is usually enough to eliminate the infection. Though, a longer course of antibiotics may be required for more severe cases.

Chemical cystitis

Chemical cystitis occurs when the bladder becomes inflamed in response to certain chemical compounds. Although bacterial infections are the most common cause of cystitis, there are a number of non-infectious factors that may also lead to swelling and irritation in the bladder. 

In the case of chemical cystitis, people who are hypersensitive to substances found in various products may develop a kind of allergic reaction in the bladder, triggering inflammation. Most prominently, these products include bubble baths, feminine care, and hygiene products or spermicidal jellies. 

The symptoms of chemical cystitis are quite similar to those of a bacterial infection and can involve sensations of pressure or bladder fullness, cramping in the abdomen or back, and a strong and more frequent urge to wee, as well as cloudy, strong-smelling or bloody urine. 

The treatment for non-infectious forms of cystitis very much depends on the underlying cause. For chemical cystitis, avoiding irritable products usually helps to ease symptoms and prevent further episodes. 

Honeymoon cystitis

Honeymoon cystitis, otherwise known as “honeymoon disease,” is a type of cystitis caused by sexual activity. It can happen after a sexual encounter with a new partner or after a period of abstinence, hence the nickname. Half of all women may get cystitis at least once in their lifetime. Although, honeymoon cystitis causes a bladder infection in just 4% of cases. This kind of cystitis is the most common among young women in their twenties.

 During sex, the E.coli bacteria that are present on the skin around your anus can be carried into the urethra through your partner’s fingers or penis. It can then enter the bladder and trigger cystitis.

To avoid contracting honeymoon cystitis, drink plenty of water and urinate often during spells of sexual activity. This can help to flush out the urethra and bladder, thus eliminating bacteria. You should also pee straight after sex to get rid of any bacteria that could have been transferred to the urethra throughout sex.

Honeymoon cystitis can be just as painful as other types of cystitis. Therefore, treating the infection before having sex again is recommended given that vaginal intercourse can worsen the pain and symptoms.

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