Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder that can result in irritation and pain. Generally, bacteria cause infection in the bladder, and it may also be referred to as a urinary tract infection (UTI) or bladder infection.
Cystitis occurs more commonly in women than men due to women having shorter urethras, because it is easier for bacteria to travel up the shorter urethra. The urethra is the tube between the bladder and the opening where urine exits the body.
Symptoms can be mild to severe and can worsen if not treated appropriately. Symptoms can include:
- Urinary urgency.
- Urinary frequency.
- Burning with urination.
- Leaking or inability to hold urine.
- Blood in urine.
- Cloudy or dark-colored urine.
- Foul or strong-smelling urine.
- Pain, pressure, or discomfort over the low abdomen.
- Low-grade fever.
Causes of cystitis
Cystitis most commonly occurs when bacteria enter the bladder from outside the body, causing an infection. It can also result from noninfectious related causes such as interstitial cystitis, radiation, chemicals, or complications from other medical conditions.
The risk of developing cystitis increases with:
- Sexual intercourse.
- Altered immune system.
- Urinary catheter use.
- Feminine hygiene products.
- Bubble baths.
- Poor hygiene (for women, this is not cleaning correctly or not wiping front to back).
- Enlarged prostate in men.
- Spermicidal products.
Symptoms may also be caused or aggravated by certain foods such as:
- Acidic foods like tomatoes.
- Citrus fruits.
- Spicy foods.
- Artificial sweeteners.
- Carbonate beverages.
If you’ve been diagnosed with cystitis
If you are experiencing symptoms of cystitis, a healthcare provider can perform an assessment and testing to determine the best treatment. A urine sample, called a urinalysis, will be collected to test for bacteria and blood.
A healthcare provider may also conduct a urine culture to determine which bacteria caused the infection and how to treat it. This may not be done if the practitioner believes the infection only involves the bladder or is not a recurrence.
Cystitis is generally treated with antibiotics prescribed by your healthcare provider. Your provider may determine which antibiotic to give based on the results of your urine tests.
However, there are steps you can take that may offer relief:
- Drink plenty of fluids: Stay well hydrated by increasing clear fluids intake. This helps flush the bladder and remove the irritants. Avoid alcohol, citrus, carbonated drinks, and caffeine, including sodas and coffee.
- Moist heating: Placing a heating pad over your lower abdomen can help ease the discomfort.
- Sitz bath: Soaking in a warm bath or using a sitz bath can help relieve pain.
- Avoid irritating foods: Spicy foods, chocolate, acidic or citrus foods can aggravate the bladder wall.
- Avoid smoking.
- Reduce stress.
- Cranberry juice or tablets: While studies have been debated, cranberry is believed to have beneficial properties in relieving symptoms.
- Avoid intercourse until symptoms resolve.
- Empty your bladder fully and frequently to avoid holding any urine or bacteria.
If cystitis is something you experience often, there are some things you can do to prevent it. First, be aware of what you may be doing that could provoke symptoms. Next, be sure to avoid things that could cause issues for you.
Be sure to:
- Empty your bladder to be sure bacteria is not developing as urine sits.
- Drain your bladder after sexual intercourse to flush bacteria out of the urethra.
- Wash before and after intercourse to promptly remove bacteria.
- Drink plenty of water. Hydrating helps keep your urinary tract healthy and flushes bacteria easily.
- Keep your genitals clean and dry.
- Consider estrogen cream if needed. Menopause can cause decreased estrogen, resulting in increased bacteria in the vagina that can lead to bladder infections. Discuss this with your healthcare provider.
- Wear cotton underwear and avoid tight-fitting clothing. This strategy helps air circulate and prevents an overgrowth of bacteria in the genital area.
- Change sanitary/incontinence pads or briefs frequently or whenever they become wet. Prolonged use can increase bacteria growth.
Avoid the following:
- Baths and bubble baths can irritate the outside of the urinary tract due to the chemicals in the soap. Irritation and inflammation around the urethra lead to increased bacteria that lead to infection.
- Do not hold your urine. Fully empty your bladder whenever you need to go to avoid holding in bacteria and causing irritation to the bladder wall.
- Do not wash with soap or use chemical products on genitals, including powders or other scented products.
- Avoid careless wiping or poor hygiene, which can cause bacteria to enter the urethra.
- Do not use spermicide with any type of contraception.
- Avoid constipation or diarrhea. Constipation can make it harder to empty your bladder, leading to bacteria growth and infection.
- If you have cystitis, do not stop taking your prescribed antibiotic until it is completely gone, even if symptoms improve.
- Do not use cleansing wipes because they minimize healthy bacteria that help protect the vagina area from infection.
- Stay away from food or drinks that you know cause irritation to your bladder or see foods listed above.
If you find yourself suffering from cystitis, there are several methods you can try at home to ease your discomfort. Prevention is the best route to avoiding symptoms. Taking steps to decrease your risk of infection will help you prevent discomfort. However, if symptoms persist, get worse, or you experience them frequently, you should speak with your healthcare provider.