Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder, usually caused by a bladder infection. Here is some advice about managing this condition.

Cystitis is a common type of urinary tract infection, and is particularly common in women. It is not usually a cause for serious concern as mild cases will often get better by themselves within a few days. However, some people experience episodes of cystitis frequently and they may need regular or long-term treatment.

In some cases, here’s also a possibility that cystitis could lead to a more serious kidney infection, which is why it’s important to seek medical advice if your symptoms don’t improve.

Signs and symptoms of cystitis
The main symptoms of cystitis include:

  • pain, burning or stinging when you pee
  • needing to pee more often and urgently than normal
  • urine that’s dark, cloudy or strong smelling
  • pain low down in your tummy
  • feeling generally unwell, achy, sick and tired

Women who have had cystitis before don’t necessarily need to see their GP if the condition returns, as mild cases often get better without treatment. You can try the self-help measures listed below in this article, or visit your pharmacist to ask for advice.

What causes cystitis?
Most cases are thought to occur when bacteria that live harmlessly in the bowel or on the skin get into the bladder through the urethra – the tube that carries urine out of your body.

It’s not always clear how this happens, but it can be caused by:

  • having sex
  • wiping your bottom after going to the toilet – particularly if you wipe from back to front
  • having a urinary catheter, which is a thin tube inserted into the urethra to drain the bladder.

Women may get cystitis more often than men because their anus – back passage – is closer to their urethra, and their urethra is much shorter, which means bacteria may be able to get into the bladder more easily.

Treatments for cystitis
See your doctor if:

  • you have symptoms of cystitis for the first time
  • your symptoms don’t start to improve within a few days
  • you get cystitis frequently
  • you have severe symptoms, such as blood in your urine.

If you visit your GP with cystitis, you’ll usually be prescribed antibiotics to treat the infection. These should start to ease your symptoms within a day or two. Your GP should be able to diagnose cystitis by asking about your symptoms. They may test a sample of your urine for bacteria to help confirm the diagnosis.

If you’ve had cystitis before and don’t feel you need to see your GP, you may want to consider treating your symptoms at home.

Until you’re feeling better, it can be helpful to:

  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • drink plenty of water
  • hold a hot water bottle on your tummy or between your thighs.

Some people find it helpful to use over-the-counter products that reduce the acidity of their urine – such as sodium bicarbonate or potassium citrate – but there’s a lack of evidence to suggest they’re effective.

If you are regularly getting cystitis, your doctor may give you an antibiotic prescription to take to a pharmacy whenever you develop symptoms, without needing to see your doctor first. Your doctor can also prescribe a low dose of antibiotics for you to take continuously over several months.