Health A to Z
Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder, usually caused by a bladder infection.
It's a common type of urinary tract infection (UTI), particularly in women, and is usually more of a nuisance than a cause for serious concern. Mild cases will often get better by themselves within a few days.
However, some people experience episodes of cystitis frequently and may need regular or long-term treatment.
There's also a chance that cystitis could lead to a more serious kidney infection in some cases, so it's important to seek medical advice if your symptoms don't improve.
The main symptoms of cystitis include:
Possible symptoms in young children include a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above, weakness, irritability, reduced appetite and vomiting.
Read more about the symptoms of cystitis.
Women don't necessarily need to see their GP if they have cystitis, as mild cases often get better without treatment. You can try the self-help measures listed below, or ask your pharmacist for advice.
See your GP if:
Your GP should be able to diagnose cystitis by asking about your symptoms. They may test a sample of your urine for bacteria to help confirm the diagnosis.
Most cases are thought to occur when bacteria that live harmlessly in the bowel or on the skin get into the bladder through the urethra (tube that carries urine out of your body).
It's not always clear how this happens, but it can be caused by:
Women may get cystitis more often than men because their anus (back passage) is closer to their urethra, and their urethra is much shorter, which means bacteria may be able to get into the bladder more easily.
Read more about the causes of cystitis.
If you see your GP with cystitis, you'll usually be prescribed antibiotics to treat the infection. These should start to have an effect within a day or two.
If you've had cystitis before and don't feel you need to see your GP, you may want to treat your symptoms at home.
Until you're feeling better, it may help to:
Some people find it helpful to try over-the-counter products that reduce the acidity of their urine (such as sodium bicarbonate or potassium citrate), but there's a lack of evidence to suggest they're effective.
If you keep getting cystitis, your GP may give you an antibiotic prescription to take to a pharmacy whenever you develop symptoms, without needing to see your doctor first. Your GP can also prescribe a low dose of antibiotics for you to take continuously over several months.
Read more about treating cystitis.
If you get cystitis frequently, there are some things you can try that may stop it coming back. However, it's not clear how effective most of these measures are.
These measures include:
not wearing tight jeans and trousers
Drinking cranberry juice has traditionally been recommended as a way of reducing your chances of getting cystitis. However, large studies have suggested it doesn't make a significant difference.
Cystitis can cause problems with peeing and make you feel unwell.
Cystitis in adults can cause:
In adults, cystitis doesn't usually cause a high temperature (fever). If you have a temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above and pain in your lower back or sides, it may be a sign of a kidney infection.
It can be difficult to tell whether a child has cystitis, because the symptoms can be vague and young children cannot easily communicate how they feel.
Possible symptoms of cystitis in young children may include:
Children with cystitis can sometimes also have symptoms usually found in adults, such as pain when peeing, peeing more often than normal and pain in their tummy.
You should see your GP if you or your child have symptoms of cystitis for the first time.
Cystitis isn't usually a cause for serious concern, but the symptoms can be similar to several other conditions, so it's important to get a proper diagnosis if you're not sure whether you have it.
If you're a woman who has had cystitis before, you don't necessarily need to see your GP again. Cystitis is very common in women and mild cases often get better on their own. Speak to a pharmacist if you need any advice about treating cystitis.
However, you should see your GP if your symptoms are severe or don't start to get better in a few days, you get cystitis frequently, or you're pregnant.
Children and men should always be seen by a GP if they have symptoms of cystitis, as the condition is less common and could be more serious in these groups.
Cystitis is usually caused by a bacterial infection, although it sometimes happens when the bladder is irritated or damaged for another reason.
Most infections are thought to occur when bacteria that live harmlessly in the bowel or on the skin get into the bladder through the urethra (tube that carries urine out of your body) and start to multiply.
Cystitis is much more common in women than men, probably because the anus (back passage) is closer to the urethra in women and the urethra is much shorter.
It's not always obvious how the bacteria get into the bladder, but it can be caused by:
There are a number of things that can increase your chances of developing an infection in your bladder. Some of these are outlined below.
If you're unable to empty your bladder fully, any bacteria that get inside may not be flushed out when you go to the toilet and can multiply more easily.
You may not be able to empty your bladder fully if:
For women who have been through the menopause, or are going through it, the lining of the urethra can shrink and become thinner because of a lack of the hormone oestrogen.
The natural balance of bacteria in the vagina may also change, which can allow potentially harmful bacteria to become more common.
This can make the urethra more vulnerable to infection, which could spread into the bladder.
You're more likely to get cystitis if you have diabetes – a condition where the level of sugar in your body becomes too high.
High levels of sugar in your urine can provide a good environment for bacteria to multiply, so any bacteria that get into the bladder are more likely to cause cystitis.
Cystitis can also be caused by damage or irritation to the urethra and bladder.
This can be the result of:
Cystitis has also been linked to recreational use of the drug ketamine.
Mild cystitis will usually clear up on its own within a few days, although sometimes you may need to take antibiotics.
See your GP for advice and treatment if:
Women who have had cystitis before don't necessarily need to see their GP if the condition returns, as mild cases often get better without antibiotics. You can try the self-help measures below or ask your pharmacist for advice.
If you've had cystitis before and don't feel you need to see your GP, the following advice may help to relieve your symptoms until the condition clears up:
Some people find drinking cranberry juice or using products that reduce the acidity of their urine (such as sodium bicarbonate or potassium citrate) reduce their symptoms, but there's a lack of evidence to suggest they're effective.
These products are also not suitable for everyone. Check with your GP or pharmacist before trying them if you're taking any other medication.
In some cases, your GP may prescribe a course of antibiotics. This will usually involve taking a tablet or capsule two to four times a day for three days.
Antibiotics should start to have an effect quite quickly. Return to your GP if your symptoms haven't started to improve within a few days.
If you keep getting cystitis (known as recurrent cystitis) your doctor may prescribe stand-by antibiotics or continuous antibiotics.
A stand-by antibiotic is a prescription you can take to a pharmacy the next time you have symptoms of cystitis, without needing to visit your GP first.
Continuous antibiotics are taken for several months to prevent further episodes of cystitis. These may be prescribed:
Your doctor may also recommend some measures you can take to prevent cystitis, although it's not clear how effective these are.