What Is Cystitis?
Cystitis is a common condition and refers to an inflammation of the bladder, more specifically an inflammation of the wall of the bladder. This inflammation is usually caused by a bladder infection. The most common bladder infection occurs when bacteria named Escherichia coli cling to the lining of the bladder by means of thread-like structures (also known as pili). Because the urethra and bladder are normally sterile this bacteria causes the area to become irritated and inflamed.
Cystitis can affect both men and women and people of all ages, however it is more common among females than males. Most women will suffer with cystitis at some time in their life and 20% will have recurrent cystitis. Cystitis is most common among:
- Women who are pregnant
- Women who are sexually active
- Post-menopausal women
The Symptoms of Cystitis
The symptoms of cystitis include:
- A frequent need to pee
- Only passing small amounts of urine in spite of the urge to go
- Pain or stinging when you pee
- Pain in your bladder
- Dark, cloudy or strong smelling urine
- Traces of blood in the urine
- Lower back pain or pain low in your belly
In children with cystitis you may see additional symptoms such as a reduced appetite, vomiting and general weakness or feverishness.
The Causes of Cystitis
Most commonly you will find that cystitis is caused by a bacterial infection. Once bacteria reach the bladder they multiply which irritates the lining of the bladder leading to the symptoms listed above. However, cystitis can also be caused by damage or irritation around the urethra.
Bacterial infections in the bladder can occur if you don't empty your bladder properly every time you visit the toilet. This may be because you have a blockage somewhere in the urinary system – this may be due to a tumour, or in men it can be because of an enlarged prostate. Pregnancy will also put pressure on the pelvic area and the bladder, as will large fibroids in the womb etc.
Bacterial infections can also occur where bacteria from the anus is transferred to the urethra. This may happen during sex, or when wiping after using the toilet (always wipe front to back). Bacteria may also be transferred when inserting a tampon or a contraceptive device such as a diaphragm.
Post-menopausal women have a thinner lining of the urethra and the bladder because of a lack of the hormone oestrogen. This thin lining is more likely to become infected or damaged and because women produce fewer vaginal secretions following the menopause, this means that bacteria are more likely to multiply.
Damage or Irritation
Cystitis is also caused by damage or irritation in the urethral area (where urine leaves the body) in both men and women. Damage or irritation can occur because of sex or because of chemical irritants such as perfumed soap, talcum powder or washing powder.
Finally cystitis may occur because of other bladder or kidney problems, such as kidney infections or prostatitis or because of diabetes, or thanks to damage caused by using a catheter. Cystitis may also be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection.
Diagnosis of Cystitis
Because the symptoms of cystitis can be caused by many conditions, it is important that children and men always see their GP. Women should visit their GP where they are suffering cystitis for the first time, if they are pregnant, if they have had more than three bouts in a year, or where blood has been spotted in your urine. If you are at all concerned do visit your GP because untreated bladder infections can cause kidney infections.
Your GP can quickly diagnose cystitis by asking about your symptoms or using a 'dipstick' test – which is a chemically treated strip of paper to test a sample of your urine. The paper will react to certain bacteria by changing colour, showing which kind of infection you have.
Sometimes your GP will ask you to supply a sample of urine which will be sent off to a laboratory for further testing.
Mild cystitis will probably clear up by itself within a few days. It is helpful if you drink plenty of water and take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Avoid sex and use a hot water bottle on your lower back pain.
If you are suffering with more severe cystitis, then you may well need treatment with antibiotics.
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