Cystitis – how to spot the signs and relieve the symptoms

If you think you've got cystitis symptoms, we can help with what might have caused it, how to treat it and what you can do to help prevent it from coming back

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Ooooh – that burning sensation when you pee, the feeling you need to go but can’t. Could it be cystitis? If you’ve been having plenty of sex – perhaps if you’re trying to conceive – it might well be, although there are other causes too.

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If you suspect you might have it, don’t worry – there are things you can do to get back on your feet – yes, if it’s really bad you could find yourself out of action and in bed with a hot water bottle for a day or so. 

But there are remedies, panic not. Here’s how to jump straight to the stuff you need to know…

Have I got cystitis? Common cystitis symptoms are:

  • a burning sensation when you wee
  • feeling like you need to wee much more than usual – even straight after you’ve been
  • not being able to wee though you feel like you need to
  • a pain low in your tummy
  • blood in your wee (if this is the case, it’s probably worth a trip to the doc as you may need antibiotics)
  • dark or cloudy urine
  • feeling generally unwell

So, pretty horrible, hey. But what can you do about it?

Treatments for cystitis

How to treat cystitis, and whether or not you’ll want to see a doctor, can depend on how bad it is.

Key remedies and ways to ease the symptoms of cystitis are:

  • upping your intake of water
  • avoiding drinks with lots of sugar and caffeine and acidic drinks (including alcohol)
  • drinking cranberry juice
  • taking a specific over-the-counter product to relieve the symptoms of cystitis
  • taking antibiotics if prescribed by your doctor
  • avoiding spicy and sugary foods
  • giving up sex until it eases
  • taking anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen or paracetamol
  • using a hot water bottle to ease bladder pain

Find out how to treat cystitis safely if you’re pregnant

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Why is it important to treat cystitis?

While cystitis itself isn’t particularly serious, and mild cases can be treated at home, it can become something more serious if it’s not got rid of, as the bacteria can get to your kidneys and cause an infection there. So you really do need to treat it.

Does drinking cranberry juice really work?

Lots of women swear by the healing effects of cranberry juice when you have cystitis but scientific studies are divided. One review of studies in 2012 found that cranberry juice did appear to reduce the risk of infection. But a few months later, a second review, the Cochrane Collaboration, concluded there wasn’t a significant effect. 

The reason why cranberry juice is thought to have this special effect is because cranberries contain proanthocyanidins. These are thought to prevent bacteria from ‘sticking’ inside your bladder. Although apple and grape juice also contains proanthocyanidins, they’re the wrong sort. It’s cranberries that have the right kind.

Cystitis when you’re trying to get pregnant

On our forum the topic of cystitis comes up a lot in our threads written by those of you who are trying to conceive.

This is partly because having sex is one way you can get cystitis – and partly because women are refraining from peeing straight away after sex to up their chances of pregnancy (note: try not to do that!). Having a wee before and straight after sex is one of the recommended ways to reduce the likelihood of cystitis. 

“I get cystitis a lot,” says Romeo. “I was advised to always pee before and after sex – but since TTC I’ve been trying to go to sleep straight away to give the sperms the benefit of not going against gravity and I’ve had a couple of nasty bouts.” 

Bella83 had a similar experience. “I got it a few months ago because I didn’t want to go to the loo straight after to help the spermies on their way!” 

“But a lady on here said that the good ones would be well on there way anyway so it wouldn’t make a difference!! I still lie there for about 15 mins after and then use the loo. I hate cystitis!”

And finally, this, from Henrietta: “The way to prevent cystitis from sex is to always have a wee straight after – see, the reason you get cystitis is because a little bit of bacteria goes into your urethra. If you have a wee it simply flushes away anything alien and ‘cleans’ your urethra.

“Every now and again I think I won’t have a wee, it’ll be ok… and then I nearly always get cystitis.”

How long can cystitis last?

Mild cystitis usually lasts 3 or 4 days. If you have a more serious bout, or aren’t taking steps to get rid of it, it could last more than a week.

Some women have 2 or more bouts in 6 months, or 3 in a year – which is called recurring cystitis, though there’s no proven theory as to why this happens. If you do suffer regularly, you should pop to your doctor. 

What causes cystitis in the first place?

Cystitis is caused either by bacteria getting into your bladder (the most common reason) or by irritation of your bladder, which leads to inflammation. 

Common causes of cystitis are:

  • having sex
  • wiping your bottom from back to front
  • using a diaphragm
  • inserting a tampon or urinary catheter
  • having a blockage in your urinary tract
  • being pregnant (due to hormonal changes and your baby possibly pressing on your bladder).

Why do I keep getting 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,”

How can you stop cystitis from coming back?

While there are no guarantees you won’t get cystitis again once you’ve had it, the good news is there are a few things you can do to make that bit less likely it’ll return. 

You can help stop cystitis coming back by:

  • going to the loo before and straight after having sex
  • wiping from front to back after going to the toilet
  • drinking lots of fluids

What’s interstitial cystitis?

Unlike cystitis – which is a urinary tract infection (UTI) – interstitial cystitis is not a UTI, but a chronic pain condition. Also known as Painful Bladder Syndrome, the symptoms are very similar to cystitis, but its cause is unknown.

Interstitial cystitis isn’t an infection, it won’t clear up with antibiotics and will instead probably require advice from a urogynecologist, who might prescribe lifestyle changes, physical therapies or other medication.

Pics: Getty

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