What is it?
Cystitis is quite common among women, and it means an inflammation of the bladder and the urethra (tube that takes urine from the bladder). It is unusual for men or children to have cystitis, and they should see a doctor if they do.

What causes it?
It is often caused by germs from the anus getting round to the vagina and up the urethra. This can happen during sex, using tampons or wiping from back to front after going to the toilet. Vigorous sexual activity or wearing very tight jeans might cause slight damage to your body and this can cause cystitis. Also some women have a reaction to things like scented soaps or vaginal deodorants. ‘Holding on too long’ before passing urine keeps germs in the bladder, and tight trousers or nylon underwear create the warm, moist conditions that germs love.

What are the symptoms?
You may feel you really need to pass urine often, but only a small amount comes out. You may also have a burning or stinging feeling when you do go. Sometimes the urine may be cloudy, strong smelling or have blood in it. Other symptoms are aching in the lower back or abdomen, and feeling feverish.

What should I do?
There are things you can do at the first signs of an attack that can help:

  • Drink lots of fluid to flush out the germs – a pint an hour for 3-4 hours, and smaller amounts afterwards. Stick to bland fluids like water, weak fruit squash or lemon barley water. Avoid orange juice, strong caffeine or fizzy drinks.
  • Special remedies to make passing urine less uncomfortable are available from the chemist.
  • Go to the toilet whenever you feel like it rather than ‘hold on’.
  • Holding a hot water bottle to your tummy may help
  • If you notice blood in your urine, have a temperature, or have lower back or severe abdominal pain you should see a doctor immediately.
  • Also go to see a doctor if you are or may be pregnant, or if the symptoms don’t go away after 24 hours of treating yourself.
  • Antibiotics may be required to clear the infection.

How can I avoid cystitis?
It’s not always possible to know exactly what causes an attack, but there are certain things you can do to help prevent it. Drink plenty of bland fluid (about 4 pints a day) to keep germs flushed out. Go to the toilet when you feel like it, and always wipe front to back. Avoid tight trousers and nylon underwear, and scented soaps, bubble bath or vaginal deodorants. Also cut down any food or drink that you think might make your cystitis worse, like tea, coffee, alcohol and spicy food. If cystitis comes on after sex: wash your genital area and hands before sex, and try passing urine after (to help flush out any germs). Use a water based lubricant if you vagina feels dry during sex.

Stay sexy and healthy
Although cystitis is not sexually-transmitted, you should always practice safer sex. This means using condoms for vaginal, anal and oral sex. Condoms have really changed. You can get them in all different colours, shapes and flavours. Enjoy sex without penetration – why not try kissing, hugging, massaging, masturbating and body rubbing? All of these are safe and fun.

Further information

Many women get cystitis: around 1 in 3 women will experience cystitis at some point in their lives.  This leaflet looks at treating it yourself and when to see a doctor –

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