Health conditions

Cystitis

What is cystitis?

Cystitis is an inflammation (swelling) of the bladder, usually caused by an infection. It affects women more than men, and can occur at any age.

It is the most common type of urinary tract infection (UTI), particularly in women.

If it’s painful or uncomfortable when you urinate (wee), you could have cystitis. If you don’t treat it, cystitis can lead to serious kidney infection.

Cystitis in children can be serious. If your child has any symptoms, take them to a doctor as soon as possible.

Women with diabetes are more likely to get cystitis. Pregnant women with cystitis are more likely to get kidney infections.

How do you get cystitis?

Most cystitis is caused by bacteria that live in the bowel. They are harmless in the bowel but cause problems when they reach the bladder. This can occur during sex, or if you wipe your genital area from the back to the front after a bowel movement (poo).

Other reasons for cystitis include kidney stones and abnormal growths in the urinary tract.

Terms explained

Bladder – the bladder stores urine. When you urinate, the urine goes to the outside of the body through a tube called the urethra.

Bowel – this is the part of the intestine which produces faeces (poo).

Signs and symptoms

  • Burning or pain when urinating.
  • Needing to urinate a lot.
  • A constant, dull ache in the lower belly.
  • Urine that smells, contains blood or is cloudy. 

How do I know I have cystitis?

If you think you have cystitis, see your doctor, who will test your urine.

The doctor may also check for other possible causes of the symptoms. This check may include a pelvic examination to ensure the vagina is healthy, or an X-ray or ultrasound of the urinary system.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) often cause infections of the urethra and symptoms similar to cystitis. It’s extra important for people aged under 25 years to be tested for chlamydia.

Treatment of cystitis

Your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics, rest and plenty of water.

Symptoms should disappear after a few days, but you need to take all the antibiotics to make sure the infection has completely gone. If the antibiotics don’t help, see your doctor again.

If left untreated

If you don’t treat cystitis, you can develop backache, fever or bouts of shivering. See your doctor immediately as this could mean the infection has reached the kidneys, and could cause kidney damage.

Self-help treatments

The following can help, but they will not cure the infection. You still need to see a doctor.

  • Drink lots of water (not coffee, tea or alcohol) – at least 2 litres a day.
  • Adding a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to a glass of water can help. You can get similar, acid reducing powders from the chemist. (Only use these for short periods, and not if you have kidney or heart disease.)
  • Take aspirin or paracetamol if you are in pain (follow the directions on the pack).
  • Put a hot water bottle or wheat pack on your back, stomach or between your legs.
  • Have a warm bath, or rest in a warm bed.
  • Some people find drinking cranberry juice helps.

Managing cystitis

If you often get cystitis

  • See your doctor.
  • Drink lots of water – 2 litres a day.
  • Avoid alcohol. It can make urine strong and acidic.
  • Always wipe yourself from front to back after going to the toilet.
  • Use plain toilet paper. Colours and perfumes can cause irritation.
  • Go to the toilet as soon as soon as you feel the urge to urinate.
  • Go to the toilet after having sex.
  • Use a water-based personal lubricant when having sex.
  • Wash your genital area and anus daily with water. Avoid lots of soap and scrubbing.
  • Wear cotton underpants. Avoid tight jeans, synthetic pants or nylon tights.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Eat a healthy diet.

Coping with cystitis

People who have cystitis often feel embarrassed, depressed or anxious. Talk about it with your doctor, a counsellor, or others who have the same problem.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor.
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222.
  • Call the Sexual Health Helpline (9227 6178 for metropolitan callers or 1800 198 205 for country callers).
  • Contact your local sexual health clinic (external site).

Remember

  • If it’s painful or uncomfortable when you urinate, you could have cystitis.
  • If left untreated, cystitis can lead to serious complications.
  • Cystitis in children can be very serious.

Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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