What is Cystitis?
Cystitis is an inflammation of the urinary tract, caused by a bacterial urinary tract infection (UTI). The condition affects millions of UK women at some point in their lives. Men may also suffer from cystitis, but the incidence of infection is much lower.
The condition is usually easily treatable with a short course of antibiotic tablets like Trimethoprim, but some women may suffer from recurring cystitis. The most usual symptoms of cystitis are a powerful urge to urinate, a burning sensation when urinating, and frequently passing a small amount or urine.
Cystitis is not a serious condition (although it can be irritating and uncomfortable for sufferers). But left untreated, cystitis can lead to complications, including more serious kidney infections.
Causes of Cystitis
Most cases of cystitis in men and women are caused by bacterial infections of the urinary tract. They occur when an E. coli (Escherichia coli) type of bacteria enters the urinary tract from outside the body. Once inside the urinary tract they rapidly multiply, causing infection and inflammation. The usual results are physical discomfort, irritation, and sometimes pain. Bacterial bladder infections may have other causes, including sexual intercourse, but sexually inactive women and girls also suffer from cystitis. Even with effective hygiene practices, the female genital area often harbours bacteria.
Non infectious cystitis
Some medications and therapies can cause cystitis as a side effect of treatment. These may include chemotherapy drugs like cyclophosphamide and ifosfamide, and radiation treatment. Medical conditions like diabetes, kidney stones, and spinal injuries can occasionally cause cystitis. An enlarged prostate can cause cystitis in men, although this is not common.
Long term use of a catheter may cause inflammation of the urinary tract and can also introduce bacteria, resulting in cystitis. If you are sensitive to certain chemicals, using some bubble baths, soaps, feminine hygiene products, or spermicidal jellies may produce a physical reaction that leads to cystitis.
Symptoms of Cystitis
The usual symptoms of cystitis tend to be irritating and uncomfortable rather than painful. It is still important to get treatment because unresolved cystitis may lead to more serious complications like kidney infections.
The most common symptoms of cystitis include:
- A powerful and persistent urge to urinate
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Passing frequent, small amounts of urine
- Cloudy, dark, or strong-smelling urine
You may also experience the following symptoms:
- Blood in the urine (hematuria)
- General discomfort in the pelvic area
- A feeling of pressure in the lower abdomen
- Slight fever and associated discomfort
The symptoms of cystitis in women may be confused with a vaginal infection (and both may be present at the same time). If you are unsure you should seek medical advice as the treatments are different.
Cystitis in men
Men may initially be puzzled by their symptoms because cystitis is not a common male problem. Most men will not immediately recognise the condition, and may worry that they have contracted a sexually transmitted infection. Many men (who have heard of cystitis) mistakenly assume that it is a ‘woman’s problem’. The symptoms of cystitis in men are essentially the same as in women, but you may also experience difficulty urinating.
Diagnosis of Cystitis
A medical diagnosis of cystitis is usually made based on the reported symptoms, although a doctor may also carry out a physical exam and request a urine sample to check for blood or pus in the urine. Recurring cystitis, or a case that doesn’t respond to treatment with antibiotics, may require further investigation and diagnosis. This might include a using a cystoscopy or image testing, but these advanced procedures are seldom required.
Most GPs are accustomed to dealing with cystitis on a regular basis and have no trouble making an on the spot diagnosis. Many women will self-diagnose their condition, either from previous experience or via a quick Google search. They will contact a GP for confirmation and a prescription for antibiotics.
Men are less likely to self-diagnose as the condition is much rarer in males. They may confuse the symptoms with a sexually transmitted infection or another ailment. A GP may also check for prostate problems before making a diagnosis.
Treatments for Cystitis
Cystitis in men and women is usually caused by a bacterial infection of the E. coli (Escherichia coli) type. Most cases of cystitis can be cured by a three or seven day course of antibiotics. Commonly prescribed treatments include nitrofurantoin monohydrate/macrocrystals, fosfomycin and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (TMP-SMX). Beta-lactam antibiotics are used when other antibiotics are contraindicated in patients.
Generally, cystitis can be cured in three days by a 200mg dosage of Trimethoprim, taken twice daily in tablet form. Taking a break from alcohol, coffee, soft drinks with caffeine, citrus juices, and spicy foods can help alleviate symptoms. Drinking plenty of water to remain hydrated may also ease your condition while the antibiotics take effect. Cranberry juice has traditionally been recommended as a cure and preventative supplement for cystitis. Some studies suggest that it may help by changing the PH level in your body.
How to prevent Cystitis
It is impossible to completely prevent cystitis, but there are certain things you can do that may reduce the likelihood of an attack.
- Drink plenty of water and remain hydrated.
- Urinate whenever you need to. Don’t ‘hold it in’ or delay going to the toilet.
- Always wipe from front to back after going to the toilet. This prevents bacteria in the anal region from spreading to the vagina and urethra.
- If you’re susceptible to cystitis, try taking showers instead of baths. It may help to reduce future attacks.
- Wash the skin around the vagina and anus gently and without harsh soap. Avoid using any abrasive cloth or flannel. It is easy to unintentionally irritate the delicate skin in these areas.
- Some doctors recommend urinating shortly before and immediately after sex. Drinking plenty of water and remaining hydrated can help to flush bacteria out of your body.
- Some women may experience adverse reactions to deodorants and feminine hygiene products such as douches which can irritate the urethra and bladder.