Did you know that nearly 40% of women will have a bout of cystitis at some point in their lives? If you’re lucky to have avoided it so far, your luck may run out when you’re pregnant – as you’re more likely to be prone to an episode when you’re expecting.
So what is cystitis?
Cystitis is an infection or inflammation in your bladder. It’s usually caused by bacteria but can also happen if your bladder is irritated (not as in cross) or is damaged.
Signs of cystitis – these are the most common symptoms:
- Frequent weeing – hmmm, that’s called pregnancy for most of us
- Feeling like you need another wee as soon as you’ve had one
- Not being able to wee though feeling like you need to
- Burning sensation when you wee
- Weeing dark and/or cloudy uring
- Strong smelling wee
- Pain quite low down in your tummy
- Feeling generally under the weather – including sick, tired and achy (oh dear, that’s pregnancy for some too)
- Blood in your wee
For some women, symptoms are mild and so you may be unaware you have an infection. But don’t worry. Those pesky urine samples you’re asked to give during antenatal check-ups will be assessed for signs of cystitis.
If you have a more serious Urinary Tract Infection, which affects your kidneys, you may feel pain in your lower back and groin. Plus you may develop a high temperature or fever, and even start having chills or shivering. As always, if you’re at all concerned, visit your GP.
Will cystitis affect my baby?
While cystitis will not directly affect your baby, it can lead to serious complications if not treated. That’s because it can lead to a more serious kidney infection, which can cause your baby to be born prematurely or underweight. So if you think you might have it during your pregnancy, visit your GP who will do a test.
Why have I got cystitis?
One of those quirks of nature, women tend to get cystitis more often than men because our urethras are shorter. That means it’s easier for bacteria to travel up to your bladder.
Women’s urethra openings are also closer to our bacteria-hosting anus (back bottoms to some of us), which again makes it easier for bacteria to cause an infection.
But quite why cystitis happens is still not fully understood. “The bacteria that causes the infection are the usual ones found on the skin and in the vagina,” explains Dr Tony Steele, medical director of online health service Doctor Fox. “But why they multiply and cause an active infection in the urine is a mystery,
And why is cystitis more common in pregnancy?
There are several reasons, including:
- Pregnancy hormones can affect the balance of bacteria in your vaginal tissue
- Preg hormones relax your bladder and kidney muscles, which means a slower flow of waste liquid between the two, which allows more time for bacteria to grow before you wee it out
- As your baby grows, it can put pressure on your bladder, which means it may not always get fully emptied (allowing bacteria to grow)
- All that extra work that your kidneys are doing, thanks to your lovely growing baby, can put undue strain on your urinary system
How can it be treated?
Cystitis can be treated with antibiotics, but you must tell your doctor you’re pregnant.
“Doctors have to know you’re having a baby so they can prescribe pregnancy-safe antibiotics to battle the infection,” explains Dr Steele.
There are other ways you may be able to treat a mild infection. “Drinking lots of fluids will help flush the infection out of your system, especially drinks that reduce the acidity of your urine, such as cranberry juice.”
You can have cystitis several times in pregnancy so the best ways to stop it returning are:
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid coffee, tea and alcohol and choose unsweetened juices such as cranberry instead
- Keep your vagina and bottom clean (especially before having sex) and avoid over-perfumed soaps
- Don’t have sex on a full bladder
- Have a wee before and after you have sex, if you find cystitis is linked to having sex
- Wear underwear with cotton gussets and keep clothes loose (time to put away your thongs)
- Go for a wee when you first want to, don’t hold it in
- Make sure you empty your bladder fully when going to the loo
- Use unbleached, white toilet paper and wipe from front to back
- Try not to let yourself get over-tired
- Avoid sugary foods and eat bio-live yoghurts
“Cutting out sweet and spicy food worked a treat in helping to get rid of my cystitis,” says Bec Reynolds, from Manchester, who’s 6 months pregnant with twin girls.
“You wouldn’t believe how much these things can contribute to the irritation. And when I suffered with the burning sensation when urinating, I only used unbleached, white toilet rolls to clean myself.”
What if my symptoms persist?
“If you’re suffering with cystitis continually then head back to your GP as the chances of complications from urine infections are higher in pregnant women,” recommends Dr Steele.