In cystitis, a bacterial infection causes your bladder to become inflamed. It happens when bacteria enter your bladder through your urethra, the tube that carries urine out of your body.
Cystitis is a common type of lower urinary tract infection. Your urinary tract consists of your kidneys, two ureters (the tubes that connect each kidney to your bladder), your bladder and your urethra.
Cystitis is caused by a bacterial infection from a variety of sources. It may also be triggered by having sex. It's most common in women, but it can affect men and young children. Doctors believe it’s less common in men because they have longer urethras and bacteria have further to travel to reach the bladder. Up to four in 10 women will have a bout of cystitis at some point during their lifetime.
Common symptoms of cystitis include:
Overall, the symptoms of cystitis are similar for men and women. Some children may develop a fever, have a reduced appetite and may have bouts of vomiting. However, young children may feel generally unwell but have no other symptoms. If your child has a fever or you think he or she might have cystitis, contact your GP for advice. It’s important to seek medical help as soon as possible because these symptoms may be caused by other, more serious conditions.
These symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than cystitis in adults. If your symptoms don’t get better after two to three days, contact your GP. He or she will be able to rule out any other conditions that could be causing your symptoms.
There is a chance that you could develop a kidney infection called pyelonephritis. This can happen if the infection moves from your bladder into your kidneys. Symptoms of kidney infection often include fever, vomiting, feeling unwell and pain in your lower back. You may also develop chills and shivers.
If you have any of these symptoms, contact your GP. He or she will be able to prescribe you some antibiotics to clear the infection. In men, there is a chance that the infection could travel to the prostate gland. This can cause a condition called prostatitis, which can make you more likely to develop recurrent bouts of cystitis in the future. The condition can be painful, but antibiotics can help to clear the infection.
Cystitis is caused by a bacterial infection. A bacterium called Escherichia coli (E.coli), which usually lives harmlessly in your bowel, causes over seven out of 10 bouts of cystitis.
Bacteria can get into your urinary tract and cause infection in different ways. These can include the following.
Cystitis usually clears up on its own. You will usually be able to manage your cystitis at home, especially if you’re a woman and have had it before. However, if you’re a man or your child has symptoms of cystitis, it’s a good idea to contact your GP.
If your symptoms get worse or don’t improve within two to three days, contact your GP for advice. He or she will be able to rule out any other conditions that could be causing your symptoms.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history. Your GP will usually be able to diagnose cystitis based on your symptoms. A sample of your urine might be tested using a ‘dipstick’. Depending on the results, a sample of your urine may be sent to a laboratory for further tests.
You can sometimes have cystitis but have no symptoms. This is particularly common if you’re older. Your cystitis may only be discovered when you have a urine test for other reasons, or you develop a kidney infection or fever.
Cystitis usually clears up by itself, without the need for treatment. However, there are several things you can do to reduce your symptoms and feel better.
If your symptoms continue for longer than two to three days, contact your GP. He or she may prescribe you antibiotics to reduce your symptoms and get rid of the infection.
Trimethoprim and nitrofurantoin are antibiotic medicines that are commonly used to treat cystitis. These can be taken as a tablet. Always ask your GP for advice and read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine. With antibiotics, your symptoms will usually clear up within three to eight days. On average, antibiotics shorten the time you have symptoms by about a day.
If antibiotics don't work, it's possible that you may have a different type of cystitis, called interstitial cystitis. This is a long-term condition in which you have ongoing inflammation in your bladder. This condition isn’t caused by bacteria, so it can’t be treated with antibiotics. For more information, see our frequently asked questions.
There are several things you can do to help prevent cystitis. Some examples are listed below.
Prevention of reoccurring cystitis
If you get cystitis frequently, your GP may prescribe you a low-dose antibiotic to keep at home. You can take this if your cystitis comes back again.
Your GP will advise you on how often to take them depending on what type of antibiotic you’re prescribed. You may be prescribed trimethoprim, which you can take daily. Another medicine used to treat reoccurring cystitis is called nitrofurantoin. You take this immediately after having sex. If you get reoccurring cystitis, it’s likely that your GP will refer you to a urologist. This is a doctor who specialises in identifying and treating conditions that affect the urinary system. He or she may offer you some further tests.
Reviewed by Hemali Parekh, Bupa Health Information Team, December 2013.
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.
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