The inconvenience and pain of cystitis is something you surely wouldn’t wish upon anybody. Though infection may have been lingering for days, there is often little warning as to when it will strike, and can come at the most awkward of times.
The first time symptoms are experienced can be disconcerting: needing the toilet (again, and again); finding that it is painful, even though urine seems reluctant to come out; wanting to curl up in bed.
It is a definite that most women will have some experience of cystitis. If you haven’t already, there’s no saying that you never will, so it is important to know the facts and to be prepared for this common problem. The quicker it is detected, the quicker it can be treated.
Cystitis is a urinary tract infection (UTI), where the bladder becomes inflamed either as a result of infection within the bladder or irritation to the area.
Though most of us do our utmost to keep ourselves healthy in the genital region, there is nothing to be embarrassed about if infection or irritation does occur. Cystitis is a very common problem amongst women (less so in men and children, who should consult a doctor if symptoms arise). In fact, statistics show that an estimated one in five of women have reoccurring symptoms (recurrent cystitis), which could mean that there is an underlying problem or that some are particularly susceptible to bladder infection.
For those women who have experienced cystitis, the symptoms are all too familiar. Here are some of the more common ones:
• feeling the urge to urinate frequently;
• urinating small amounts;
• experiencing pain when urinating;
• finding blood in your urine;
• urine is a dark colour.
If you have a mild case of cystitis, symptoms may be largely unnoticeable, relatively painless, and can be treated with ease. If, however, the symptoms you are experiencing are causing you trouble, a visit to your GP is advised. Typically, a sample of urine will be tested to determine appropriate treatment, most usually a course of antibiotics.
Bacterial infection is the most common cause of cystitis. The urethra - shorter in women than men and by which urine is passed from the bladder - is positioned close to the anus, where there is the possibility of bacteria spreading to the bladder and resulting in infection. This is when it is especially important to ensure good hygiene (see Prevention).
Irritation or damage around the urethra could arise as a result of:
• going through the menopause;
• the use of perfumed toiletries;
• acidic fruit juice or caffeine-high drinks;
• tight or uncomfortable clothing (liable to spread bacteria);
• frequent, or particularly exuberant, sexual activity;
• failure to empty bladder regularly;
• sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
If you have any underlying medical problems, these could also be the cause of cystitis. If you have any further concerns, refer to your GP.
Mild forms of cystitis can be treated with relative ease and symptoms should clear up within a few days. Basic remedies such as drinking lots of water and taking over-the-counter medicines (e.g. paracetamol) can be sufficient enough in alleviating any discomfort and getting your body back to normal. Though an alternative, non-medical treatment, cranberries have proven effective in easing the pains of cystitis - especially recurrent cystitis - and can be taken as a tablet (with cranberry extract), as a juice drink (low sugar), or even in their natural form.
There are simple things we can do to prevent cystitis or lesson its effect:
• Drink. Try drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day (the recommended daily amount) which will flush out your system and alleviate the pain of passing urine.
• Ensure cleanliness. Wipe from back to front after going to the toilet in order to avoid the spread of bacteria. Also, wash your hands regularly, especially before and after inserting a tampon.
• Avoid perfumed products in the genital region. Use simple, unscented products, as these can be an irritant to such a delicate part of the body.
• Avoid tight clothing. Wear comfortable, looser fitting clothes, particularly in hotter weather when bacteria is more liable to spread.
• Good sexual health. Use suitable precautions to prevent infection, use lubrication to avoid damage or irritation (which can cause cystitis), and keep the genital area clean before and after sex (again, to prevent infection).
• Good diet. Generally eat and drink healthily to maintain a balanced body, and avoid certain bladder irritants as acidic drinks and caffeine.
Taking note of these preventative measures should minimise the risk of getting cystitis. But, if you are unfortunate enough to experience it, then you should have all the information you need to know to deal with it - fingers crossed we’ll never have to.