Cystitis: Urinary Tract Infection
Cystitis is also often referred to as a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). Cystitis usually effects the bladder were it is called a lower urinary tract infection. It sometimes can be more severe and involve the kidneys and the ureters. Mild cystitis or a lower UTI is very common in women. It affects an estimated 2 million women in the UK annually. Cystitis can affect children and men but it is far more common in post-pubescent women. While cystitis when it flares up can be quite painful for some women, it usually clears up on its own within a few days, leaving behind no long term ill effects.
The Urinary SystemTo understand cystitis we must first understand a bit about the urinary system. The two kidneys produce urine and it drains into the bladder through tubes called the ureters. As the bladder fills in can expand to accommodate the fluids. Upon urination, your bladder contracts and squeezes the urine out through the urethra. The most common and less severe form of Cystitis, or lower urinary tract infection usually involves the urethra and the bladder. That is why cystitis is also sometimes referred to as a “bladder infection”.
Where Does the Infection Come From?Most Cystitis, certainly the far more common form of lower UTI, is caused by bacteria that are normally found in the bowels, especially E. coli. Women are far more prone to Cystitis then men are simply because of the difference in anatomy. The proximity of the vaginal opening to the anus makes cross contact of bacteria far easier than in men. While E. Coli is the most common bacterium responsible for the infection, other bacteria found on skin can cause the infection. Therefore sexual activity increases the chance of bacteria being transferred from the skin into the vaginal opening and traveling up the urethra into the bladder. Other causes for Cystitis can include.
- Use of tampons
- Use of certain spermacides as they lower the acidity of the vagina and allow bacteria to thrive
- Use of soaps, bubblebaths, and vaginal deodorants which also change the pH of the vagina
- “Holding it in” too long before urinating, as this can give bacteria more time to grow
- Menopause because of the changes to the vaginal environment
The first and most common symptom most women experience when they have cystitis is a burning or stinging sensation upon urination. Other symptoms may include:
- Dark or smelly urine
- A strong need to urinate frequently, even when your bladder is empty
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Bloody urine
- Fever or an overall feeling of being sick
Treatment of CystitisIf your symptoms are indeed that of a cystitis attack, they may very well clear up on their own after a few days. However if you are in extreme discomfort there are several at home treatments that can help you deal with the infection until it has run its course.
- Over-the counter pain- killers such as Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and acetaminophen can help ease the pain, and reduce fever if it has accompanied your infection.
- Drinking water with bicarbonate of soda can make your urine less acid and less painful when you urinate
- Refrain from sexual activity while you are experiencing symptoms
- Do not drink alcohol
- Cranberry juices and cranberry concentrate capsules. Some women swear by the effect of cranberries to help with UTI’s. There have been some clinical studies that have shown that cranberry juice can help prevent cystitis attacks, but there is no definitive evidence that suggests cranberry juice can treat a UTI. However it couldn’t hurt, as they say.
Medical InterventionIf you believe you are suffering from cystitis you should seek medical care if:
- There is blood in your urine
- You are pregnant
- Your sexual partner is experiencing the same symptoms
- You have had symptoms for several days
- Symptoms of cystitis keep recurring
If you go to a physician to have your cystitis treated he or she will probably prescribe an oral antibiotic. It is important that you take the full course of the antibiotic even after symptoms disappear. Not doing so can lead to chronic recurring cystitis. Some women do have this condition and require continuous therapy of low dose of antibiotics to prevent recurring infections.
Prevention of CystitisThe best way to treat a urinary tract infection is to avoid getting one. As stated previously, cranberry juice has been shown to help prevent cystitis. Other ways of preventing cystitis include:
- Always wipe yourself from “front” to “back”
- Don’t “hold it in” and empty your bladder fully each time you urinate
- Use moist tissues after each bowel movement to prevent the spread of bacteria
- Wear cotton underwear
- Relieve yourself soon after sexual intercourse, have your partner wash thoroughly with anti bacterial soap before engaging in sexual activity.