Cystitis refers to an inflammation of the bladder wall. It is a common type of urinary tract infection (UTI). It can resolve without treatment, but if a person regularly experiences cystitis or develops symptoms of a kidney infection, they should seek medical advice.

Although cystitis is not typically a serious condition, it can be uncomfortable and lead to complications without treatment.

This article will cover the causes of cystitis, how doctors diagnose and treat it, home remedies, and how people can help prevent it.

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A 2021 article states that cystitis refers to the infection of the bladder, which is a part of the lower urinary tract.

Cystitis usually occurs when bacteria that typically live harmlessly on the skin or in the bowel enter the urethra and bladder. The bacteria then fastens to the lining of the bladder and causes the area to become irritated and inflamed. This is known as a bladder infection.

Cystitis can affect anyone, regardless of sex or age. But it is more common among females. One reason for this is that females have a shorter urethra that is closer to the anus. This means that bacteria can enter the bladder more easily.

Cystitis may be either acute or interstitial. Acute cystitis is cystitis that happens suddenly. Interstitial cystitis is longer term, and is also known as chronic cystitis. The exact cause of interstitial cystitis is yet unknown, but researchers are working to understand it.

Learn more about interstitial cystitis here.

There are several types of cystitis. The different types are determined based on their causes, and include:

  • Bacterial cystitis: This occurs when bacteria enter the bladder through the urethra and irritate the bladder walls.
  • Drug-induced cystitis: Some medications can irritate the bladder as they exit the body. Certain chemotherapy drugs can cause a person to develop cystitis.
  • Radiation cystitis: Radiation therapy can shrink tumors and kill cancer cells, but it can also damage healthy cells. Radiation cystitis typically occurs following radiation therapy that affects the pelvic region.
  • Foreign body cystitis: This can occur if a person receives treatment using a catheter, stent, or other endoscopic instruments. Bacteria may enter the urethra through the insertion or removal of the catheter or stent, or damage from the insertion or removal can cause inflammation.
  • Chemical cystitis: This is the inflammation of the bladder that results from some forms of treatment, such as chemotherapeutic agents. It can also develop as a result of soaps, spermicide, gels, and dyes.

A person can also develop asymptomatic bacteriuria. This is when there is the presence of bacteria in the urine, but a person does not present with any symptoms of a UTI. Most people will not require treatment, but those who are pregnant may benefit from treatment.

Acute cystitis typically occurs as a result of bacteria called Escherichia coli. Other bacterial causes include:

  • Proteus mirabilis
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • Staphylococcus saprophyticus
  • Group B streptococci
  • Lactobacillus
  • S. saprophyticus
  • enterococci

In males, cystitis can also occur due to problems that restrict typical urine flow.

An example of this is an enlarged prostate, which could prevent someone from being able to urinate normally.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), risk factors include:

  • inserting, changing, or prolonged use of a urinary catheter
  • using a diaphragm for birth control
  • difficulty fully emptying the bladder
  • sexual activity and friction from sexual activity
  • radiotherapy
  • diabetes, due to the high sugar levels in the urine providing a good environment for the bacteria to grow

Males who have unprotected anal sex have a slightly higher chance of cystitis.

People going through menopause also have a higher chance of developing cystitis. During menopause, estrogen levels drop and the lining of the urethra gets thinner. The thinner the lining becomes, the higher the chances are of infection and damage.

The symptoms of cystitis may vary depending on what type of cystitis a person has.

Acute cystitis

For cases of acute cystitis, the symptoms may include:

  • pain, burning, or stinging when urinating
  • urinating more frequently
  • dark and cloudy urine
  • strong-smelling urine
  • urgent need to pass urine
  • pain in the lower stomach
  • general aches, weakness, and tiredness

The symptoms are the same for males as they are for females.

In children, the symptoms may include:

  • fever
  • tiredness, weakness, and aches
  • irritability
  • lack of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting

Acute cystitis with hematuria

This is where a person develops cystitis with the presence of blood in the urine.

A person will experience the same symptoms of acute cystitis, and the blood may or may not be visible in the urine. In some cases, the blood is only visible under a microscope.

Hemorrhagic cystitis

This is where the blood vessels in the lining of the bladder are also damaged.

Symptoms will include blood in the urine, along with:

  • pain when urinating
  • burning or stinging when passing urine
  • urinating more often
  • feeling a strong sense of urgency to urinate
  • loss of bladder control

Hemorrhagic cystitis can occur as a complication of radiation therapy. Without treatment, hemorrhagic cystitis will progress through stages:

  • Grade I: This involves microscopic bleeding.
  • Grade II: The bleeding is visible.
  • Grade III: The bleeding contains small clots.
  • Grade IV: There is bleeding with large clots that may obstruct the flow of urine.

Interstitial cystitis

Interstitial cystitis may cause:

  • pain in the lower abdominal, urethral, or vaginal area
  • frequent need to urinate
  • urgent need to urinate

According to the Urology Care Foundation, males who have interstitial cystitis may also experience pain in their testicles, scrotum, and perineum, as well as pain when they ejaculate.

People with interstitial cystitis may experience acute pain or chronic pain. Acute pain is sudden pain for a short period of time, whereas chronic pain is pain that may recur frequently, last longer, or both.

Vs. UTI

Cystitis is a type of UTI. UTIs are infections of the urinary tract, meaning that they can include anything from the urethra to the kidneys, as well as the bladder. An infection in the bladder is cystitis. Bacterial cystitis is a type of UTI, but other types of cystitis may not be.

Lower tract UTIs affect the urethra and bladder, whereas upper tract UTIs affect the kidneys. An upper tract UTI can be life threatening if the bacteria move from the infected kidney to the bloodstream.

Symptoms of a lower tract UTI are the symptoms of bacterial cystitis. Symptoms of an upper tract UTI may also include:

  • pain in the upper back
  • fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • chills

Most cases of mild cystitis will resolve themselves within a few days. If cystitis lasts more than 3 days, a person should discuss this with a doctor.

A doctor may prescribe antibiotics. The type and duration of antibiotic treatment will depend on the individual. For example, a doctor may prescribe:

  • Nitrofurantoin: A person may take 100 milligrams (mg) twice a day for 5–7 days.
  • Sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim: A person may take this twice a day for 3 days.
  • Fosfomycin: This entails a single dose of 4 mg.

If symptoms do not ease after taking the antibiotics, a person should return to the doctor.

To help ease symptoms at home, a person can take pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. They should also drink plenty of water.

Cranberries contain an active ingredient that helps prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall. But cranberry juice or capsules may not contain enough of the active ingredient to prevent symptoms.

A person should also avoid alcohol.

A doctor will ask the person some questions, carry out an examination, and do a urine test. The urine test will either be sent to a laboratory, or the doctor may use a dipstick. Urine dipstick results come back quickly while the person is still in the office.

A urine culture or catheterized urine specimen may be needed to determine the type of bacteria in the urine. After finding out which specific bacterium is causing the infection, the doctor will prescribe an oral antibiotic.

Doctors may also offer to test for a sexually transmitted infection (STI), as the symptoms may be similar.

People who regularly develop cystitis may need further tests. These could include an ultrasound scan, X-ray, or cystoscopy of the bladder using a fiber-optic camera.

Cystitis is often not preventable, but the following measures may help:

  • practicing good hygiene after sex
  • using neutral, unperfumed soaps around the genitals
  • emptying the bladder completely when urinating
  • not postponing urination
  • avoiding tight underwear and tight pants
  • wearing cotton underwear
  • wiping from front to back
  • using a lubricant during sex

Those who use catheters should ask a doctor or nurse how to avoid damage when changing the catheter.

Around one-third of females will develop a UTI before they reach the age of 24 years.

In most cases, cystitis will resolve itself after 3 days. If a person has cystitis that does not begin to ease within 3 days, they should contact a doctor for medical advice.

People should also contact a doctor if they have symptoms of cystitis and:

  • are male
  • are pregnant
  • have had cystitis frequently
  • have never had cystitis before
  • also have other symptoms such as blood in the urine, fever, or pain in their side
  • are also experiencing nausea and vomiting

People should always take children with cystitis or suspected cystitis to the doctor.

When males get cystitis, it can be more serious than for females. Male cystitis is more likely to result from another underlying condition, such as a prostate infection, cancer, an obstruction, or an enlarged prostate.

In most cases of male cystitis, early treatment solves the problem effectively, but untreated male bladder infections can lead to kidney or prostate infections or damage.

Acute cystitis is a common occurrence, especially among females, and will usually resolve itself after a few days of discomfort.

If a person has mild to moderate symptoms, cystitis may be manageable using over-the-counter pain relievers and home remedies.

But if it does not resolve on its own, it may require medical treatment. Doctors may also write preemptive prescriptions for antibiotics for those people who have frequent bouts of cystitis.

More complicated types of cystitis require different treatments and can cause different issues without treatment. It is important that people speak with their healthcare professional if they think they may have cystitis for the first time.