Cystitis is bladder inflammation that's generally triggered by an infection. It’s a relatively common type of urinary tract infection (UTI), especially in women, though it can also affect men and children. 

Although cystitis may be uncomfortable, it’s not a cause for serious concern and usually clears up on its own, although in some cases you may need to take a short course of antibiotics. 

What causes cystitis?

It's believed that most cases of cystitis occur when bacteria that live harmlessly in your bowel move into the bladder. Women are more likely than men to have cystitis. This is because a woman’s urethra is shorter and opens nearer the anus. 

Nearly half of women will have at least one bout of cystitis in their lives and one in three women will have had the infection by the age of 24.

You may be more prone to getting cystitis if you: 

  • Have a weak immune system
  • Are aged less than 12 months or over 75 years old
  • Have gone through the menopause
  • Are sexually active or pregnant
  • Use spermicide as a form of contraception
  • Have a catheter or problems with your bladder, urinary system or kidneys
  • Have diabetes

What are the symptoms of cystitis?

Symptoms of cystitis include:

  • Feeling pain or a burning sensation when you urinate
  • Needing to go to the toilet more urgently and frequently than usual
  • Passing urine that has a strong odour, is dark or cloudy
  • Experiencing pain in the lower abdomen
  • Feeling achy, sick or fatigued

Symptoms that may occur in young children include:

  • A pressing or more frequent need to urinate
  • A temperature of 38°C or above
  • Abdominal pain or vomiting
  • A diminished appetite

In adults, cystitis doesn’t normally cause a fever. If you do have a high temperature of 38°C or above and are experiencing discomfort in your lower back and sides, it may be a sign of a kidney infection. Visit your Doctor if you’re concerned about your symptoms or if this is the first time you've had cystitis. 

What treatments are available for cystitis?

If you’ve been having mild symptoms for less than three days, you can manage your symptoms at home or consult a pharmacist for advice. 

Until the discomfort has decreased, it may help to: 

  • Take over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol. Read the patient information leaflet or speak to your pharmacist to check if these are suitable for you
  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
  • Avoid having sexual intercourse until you start feeling better
  • Try to urinate regularly
  • Wash your genitals using soap for sensitive skin
  • Hold a hot water bottle against your stomach

Some people think that cranberry drinks and products ease the acidity of their urine, but there’s a lack of evidence to support the effectiveness of these home remedies.

If your Doctor diagnoses you with cystitis, you’ll generally be prescribed a course of antibiotics. These should start to make a difference within a day or two. Go back to your Doctor if your symptoms don’t start to improve after few days from starting the antibiotic.

If you get cystitis on a regular basis, your Doctor may give you an antibiotic prescription to bring to the pharmacy whenever you develop symptoms. In this case you would not have to see a Doctor first. In certain cases, your Doctor can also prescribe a low dose of antibiotics that could be taken continuously over the course of several months. 

When should you see a Doctor? 

Women usually don’t need to see their Doctor if they have mild cystitis, as most mild cases improve without treatment. However, you should see your Doctor if you:

  • Have severe symptoms, like blood in your urine
  • Think your child might have cystitis
  • Are pregnant
  • Get cystitis frequently
  • Don't feel your symptoms have improved within three days
  • Are unsure if it is cystitis or something else

Your Doctor should be able to diagnose cystitis by asking about your symptoms, though they may test a sample of your urine for bacteria to confirm diagnosis.

You should also visit your Doctor if you're experiencing symptoms of interstitial cystitis. Signs you may have this condition include long-term or frequent pain low in your stomach and problems urinating. The condition mostly affects middle-aged women, and unlike regular cystitis, there's no clear infection in the bladder. Antibiotics are not used to treat interstitial cystitis but your Doctor can recommend ways to help ease your symptoms. 

How can cystitis be prevented? 

If you get cystitis frequently there are some techniques you can use to help avoid another bout of it. Though these methods aren't cures, some people find they help manage symptoms or prevent cystitis recurring.

Methods include: 

  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Showering, rather than having a bath
  • Using unperfumed toiletries near your genitals
  • Going to the toilet as soon as you need to urinate and wiping from front to back
  • Completely emptying your bladder when you go to the toilet and straight after having sex
  • Changing methods of contraception if you use a diaphragm
  • Wearing cotton underwear, rather than those made from synthetic materials
  • Avoiding wearing very tight trousers

Next steps

  • If you have a mild case of cystitis, use at-home treatments such as ibuprofen or paracetamol to help relieve pain, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. You can consult your pharmacist for treatment advice
  • If home remedies don’t work or symptoms are particularly severe, visit your Doctor who may prescribe a course of antibiotics
  • Be sure to use preventative measures, such as going to the toilet as soon as you need to urinate, always wiping from front to back, staying hydrated and not using perfumed bubble bath, soap or talcum powder near your genitals