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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Cystitis means inflammation of the bladder and is usually caused by a bacterial infection. Cystitis is often used interchangeably with the term urinary tract infection (UTI), although technically, cystitis is a subtype of the umbrella term UTI, which also includes infections in other parts of the kidney-bladder-urethra system.

Common complaints are pain or burning on passing urine, needing to go more often, and yet little may be passed and racing to the bathroom with great urgency to pass urine.

Less common symptoms include stomach pain, blood in the urine or smelly urine. Cystitis is usually caused by certain bacteria, many of which occur naturally on your skin and in your gut. Owing to the close proximity of your waterworks to the bowel system, bacteria that are usually harmless in the feces or on your skin can contaminate the urinary system and cause a bladder infection.

Doctor’s advice

Next steps

UTIs, including cystitis, are common in women, with up to half of women developing them at some point in their life. It is more common in women than men due to a woman's anatomy – the urethra (pee pipe from the bladder to the outside) is shorter than a man's, so there is less distance for the bacteria to travel to reach the bladder. For this reason, you should always wipe from front to back after a bowel movement.

The chance of getting cystitis increases in pregnancy, women having sex or a change of sexual partner, those with diabetes, and the elderly.

A lowered immune system, a catheter (an artificial tube inserted into the bladder), and any previous surgery on the urethra all increase the risk of developing cystitis in both men and women.

Cystitis is not contagious and cannot be passed on to your partner during sex. But if you have symptoms, it's a good idea to refrain from sex until you're feeling better, as this can irritate the urethra.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

Characterized by burning or acidity, along with passing little urine volume despite the feeling of high urgency and frequency, cystitis and its associated symptoms can often clear just by drinking plenty of water to help dilute the acidic urine and also flush out the bladder and urinary tract. Aim to drink about one pint of water every two hours, taking regular and frequent sips.

Sachets are available from any pharmacy containing sodium citrate or potassium citrate, which helps relieve the burning sensation by neutralizing acidity and helps get things back to normal. Cystitis relief sachets are made into a drink and taken three times a day for 48 hours. If your symptoms have not cleared in that time frame, you should see a doctor for further evaluation.

Am I fit for work?

You may be fit for work if you have very mild cystitis and feel well. But you will likely feel too uncomfortable to be at work and need easy access to a bathroom, in which case you may want to stay home for a couple of days.

When should I see my doctor?

You should book an urgent appointment with your doctor if you are male, pregnant, or have severe symptoms. There's a risk that cystitis can cause more significant problems, such as a kidney infection or sepsis, and symptoms may even point to a kidney stone. You should seek urgent medical advice if you develop a temperature above 100°F, develop pain on one or both sides of your back, have blood in your urine, or you feel very unwell.

It's unusual to have more than two episodes of cystitis in a year, so it's worth booking a routine appointment with your doctor to investigate any cause.

When you see your doctor, they will ask about your symptoms and, if you are comfortable, examine your tummy. They are likely to ask for a urine sample. Depending on the possible diagnosis, blood tests, further urine tests, or imaging (ultrasound, X-ray, CT scan) could be carried out, or you may be referred to a specialist department.

The doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help recovery.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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