Cystitis is an inflammation that affects the bladder and a type of lower urinary tract infection.
Symptoms can include a burning sensation during urination, more frequent or intense urgency, or even blood in the urine. Pain in the lower abdomen is possible, too. Because any of these can easily accompany other conditions, it’s important to get a professional diagnosis.
The root causes vary. Sometimes it results from excess growth of E. coli (a normal inhabitant of the gastrointestinal tract). One method of transmission is simply incorrect cleansing habits during normal urination, more often in women. They have a shorter distance between the anus and urethra. Wiping from back to front rather than front to back can move bacteria from the feces to the urinary tract opening.
It can also result from a sexually transmitted disease. Chlamydia is one of the more common villains, particularly in women who are more prone to cystitis in general. Since the genitalia are more exposed, they are at greater risk for bacteria that can move from the tissue surrounding the urinary tract opening.
Women who are more sexually active are at greater risk, but menopause (when activity usually decreases, at least for a time) can also up the odds. Menopause causes changes to the lining on the vagina and urethra, changes which make infection more likely. Oddly, using a spermicide on a diaphragm can actually increase the odds of cystitis. The explanation is controversial, but at minimum has to do with the altered intra-vaginal environment.
There are several over-the-counter products that can be helpful.
For pain control, ibuprofen works well for some. In cases in which the level of acidity is contributing to frequent bouts of infection, bicarbonate of soda can be effective against symptoms. Sodium citrate capsules can also be beneficial. Ample fluid intake can help flush the infection, as well.
Cranberry capsules are sometimes recommended, but studies show mixed results. One hypothesis is that it helps prevent bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract. More advanced cases call for antibiotics, some of which must be obtained via prescription. Amoxicillin, Cipro, and others are commonly used.
But not all cystitis is produced by bacteria and therefore responds to treatment with antibiotics. One type called interstitial cystitis is the result of chronic inflammation of the bladder wall. The only way to know for sure if this is the case is to have a professional exam. That usually involves a simple urinalysis test that looks for bacteria or blood in the urine. If neither is found, your physician will begin to look for other causes.
Treatments for IC range from simple dietary changes to TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation). Surgery is rarely warranted. Sometimes ‘retraining’ the bladder is used (involving changing the way one urinates by muscle control) and has been effective. Only a physician can prescribe a proper course of treatment for this more serious form of cystitis.