Cystitis is a common problem that affects the bladder. While it’s more of a nuisance than a serious concern, the symptoms can be incredibly annoying and often painful. Luckily, it can be treated with a short course of medication. But what is cystitis, how can you spot the symptoms, and how long does it last?
What are the symptoms of cystitis?
The key symptoms of cystitis include:
- The urgent need to pass urine (which doesn’t necessarily disappear once you’ve urinated)
- Needing to pass urine frequently
- A burning sensation when you urinate
- Dark, cloudy or strong-smelling urine
- Discomfort in the lower stomach
In more serious cases, you might find blood in your urine or a fever, in which case you should speak to your GP as soon as possible as you might have a more serious infection. In rare cases, the bacteria can travel to your kidneys and cause complications, so it’s vital that you seek treatment for this if your cystitis has got worse.
Around half of women experience cystitis at least once in their lives and many have experienced it by the age of 24. It can be more common in:
- Pregnant women
- Women who are sexually active
- People who have diabetes.
How long does cystitis last?
The length of a cystitis infection depends on how it is treated, as antibiotics can usually treat the problem quickly. However, without antibiotics, cystitis can take a little longer to clear up, although it will go away on its own as your immune system fights it.
It can take up to a week for cystitis to clear up on its own, compared to just a couple of days with cystitis treatment. Most people find that treatment is the best option as it reduces the symptoms that can be troublesome.
How is cystitis treated?
However, you can assist your body in clearing up the infection by drinking plenty of water to help the body flush out the bacteria and taking painkillers such as ibuprofen to treat any painful symptoms you might be experiencing.
There’s a common theory that cranberry juice can also work to treat UTIs and it’s not completely unfounded, as cranberries can help to dilute the acidity in your urine which makes urinating less painful. However, water and antibiotics are more effective so these should be the main form of treatment.
Can you prevent cystitis?
There are ways you can prevent the likelihood of developing cystitis again in the future. Sex is often a trigger for this infection so it’s a good idea to urinate after having sex - this will flush out any bacteria that may have entered the urethra.
Highly perfumed soaps and shower gels can also trigger an infection, so only use gentle products which are designed for this area of your body. Showering instead of having baths can also help to reduce the risk of developing cystitis.
Try to choose natural fabrics for your underwear, such as cotton, instead of synthetic materials like polyester, as this allows your skin to breathe. You should also avoid holding in urine for a long time – always empty your bladder fully when you go to the toilet.
Some studies suggest that contraceptive choices can also increase the likelihood of developing cystitis, with diaphragms being the most common trigger. If you experience UTIs regularly and use a diaphragm, it may be worth switching to an alternative option such as condoms or the contraceptive pill.
If you think you have the symptoms of cystitis or you frequently develop UTIs, you should contact your GP – they may take a urine sample to determine if you have a bacterial infection and how best to treat it.