The stinging. The burning. The constant need to pee. We can all agree that cystitis is the worst. Not only is it painful, but it can make completing everyday tasks uncomfortable and can even lead to complications if not treated properly. But what actually is cystitis? And why does it happen? We consulted GP and founder of Luxe Skin, Dr Usman Queri, for the full lowdown on everything you need to know…
What is cystitis?
“Cystitis is the inflammation of the bladder and urinary tract; this is something which predominately affects women,” explains Dr Queri. There are two main types of cystitis: bacterial (an infection) and non-bacterial, which involves causes such as injury to the area.
While cystitis is uncomfortable, it’s also pretty common and affects around half of women at one point or another.
What is the difference between cystitis and a UTI?
“A Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) is just a general term that covers all types of infections in the urinary tract,” says Dr Queri, “whereas cystitis is a specific type of UTI that causes bladder inflammation.”
What causes cystitis?
“The main cause of cystitis is bacteria getting into the urethra AKA pee hole and multiplying,” says Dr Queri. “The chances of this happening can increase if you are sexually active, pregnant, have been through menopause, have diabetes, have a weakened immune system, have kidney stones or use a urinary catheter,” he adds.
Some women experience cystitis during pregnancy because the urethra is relaxed by the extra progesterone produced by the body. In later pregnancy, urine can remain trapped in the bladder due to the size of the expanding foetus, also causing inflammation. Cystitis is also more common around menopause because, as oestrogen levels fall, the walls of the vagina become thinner, and the walls of the urethra shrink, encouraging bacterial infection and making women more susceptible to irritants.
Once the harmful bacteria has made its way in, it can travel up the urethra to the bladder and even the kidneys if left untreated. Most often, bacterial cystitis is caused by bad bacteria entering the urethra from the skin or from around the anus. Wiping the wrong way and having sex can increase the risk of this happening.
Non-bacterial or non-infective cystitis is typically caused by bruising or irritation of the urethra. Often, this can be caused by friction during sex or sports such as cycling and horse riding. Other causes of non-infectious cystitis can include chemicals from soaps and bath products and chlorine in swimming pools.
What are the symptoms of cystitis?
“Symptoms include feeling the need to urinate more often and more urgently; you might even feel the need to urinate after you have just gone. Another symptom is urine that’s cloudy or has a strong odour.
“You may also experience feeling of pressure on your bladder (this is the inflammation), a sore back and/or lower abdomen,” says Dr Queri. “If you have you have a fever, chills, severe pain, blood in the urine, nausea or sickness it is important to check with your GP that you don’t have a kidney infection as well as cystitis. A UTI can lead to a kidney infection if untreated,” he adds. You may also feel stinging or burning when you pee.
What is the best way to treat cystitis?
“A hot water bottle and painkillers such as paracetamol will help relieve any pain or discomfort. Then drinking lots of water is important to flush out the bacteria causing the infection,” says Dr Queri. “It is important to avoid caffeinated, alcoholic or sugary drinks as these can irritate the urethra. Avoiding sex and peeing frequently will help too,” he says.