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There are several courses of action to take, depending on the underlying cause of cystitis, and the treatments are variable from case to case.

When it comes to the body, there are so many conditions that can cause irritation and difficulty functioning normally. Several of those issues are related to the urinary tract. Aside from general urinary tract infections, conditions such as cystitis can easily interrupt the day and lead to frustration, inhibiting normal daily events and goals. It can even reduce sleep, affect the ability to concentrate, and lead to fatigue. What is cystitis, and how is it treated?

What is cystitis?

Cystitis is a condition in which the bladder is inflamed. Inflammation is the redness, swelling, or irritation in some part of the body. The most common reason a person experiences cystitis is due to a urinary tract infection, which is caused by bacteria somewhere in the urinary tract, bladder, or kidneys. Antibiotics will treat the infection, but there is still a risk of continued irritation and cystitis.

Causes of cystitis

Though UTIs are the most common cause of cystitis, there are other ways to create the condition. For example, a person on certain types of medications may be more likely to experience cystitis, even without having a UTI. Also, the use of certain hygiene products, such as douches, can lead to cystitis. Less common but definite concerns for cystitis include radiation exposure and the use of a catheter, especially if it is an ongoing process. Cystitis may be related to other medical conditions, as well, such as having kidney stones, an enlarged prostate, diabetes, HIV, or a spinal injury.

Based on other causes, cystitis is categorized by type as:

  • Bacterial
  • Drug induced
  • Radiation induced (due to cancer treatment)
  • Foreign body (such as a catheter)
  • Chemical (caused by diaphragms, spermicides, feminine hygiene sprays, or bubble bath chemicals)

Risk factors for cystitis

Some people are more likely to develop cystitis than others, based on anything from medical health to lifestyle. While anyone can develop cystitis, women are more likely to have it than men.

Greater risk factors for women include:

  • Sexual activity
  • Pregnancy
  • Use of a diaphragm that contains spermicide
  • Menopause
  • Use of personal hygiene products containing irritants

Men, too, have risk factors that heighten the likelihood of developing cystitis, the most common of which is an enlarged prostate.

Other common risk factors are:

  • Currently or recently experiencing a UTI
  • Radiation and chemotherapy
  • Use of a catheter
  • Existence of kidney stones
  • Diabetes (Type I or Type II)
  • Being HIV positive
  • Having a spinal injury
  • Any interference in the flow of urine

Symptoms of cystitis

The symptoms related to cystitis create a long list, most of which are mild but can become gravely irritating and start to interrupt daily activities. Patients with cystitis may experience:

  • The frequent urge to urinate
  • The need to urinate expressly after emptying the bladder
  • Low grade fever, especially if also experiencing a UTI
  • Bloody urine
  • Cloudy and strong-smelling urine
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Cramps in the back or abdomen
  • Feelings of pressure on the bladder or the feeling that the bladder is constantly full

If cystitis is caused by a UTI that spreads to the kidneys, more severe symptoms will likely occur, such as:

  • Severe nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Back and flank pain
  • Chills and higher-grade fever

Interstitial cystitis

The majority of cystitis cases are acute, showing up without warning and involving just one layer of the bladder tissue. These cases can be treated easily, mainly by treating the underlying cause, and will clear up fairly quickly most of the time. However, with interstitial cystitis, the problem is chronic and much more difficult to treat.

Interstitial cystitis often affects several layers of bladder tissue and is a very painful condition. The cause is unknown, but it is characterized by symptoms that include:

  • Discomfort and tenderness of the lower abdomen
  • Pressure sensations in the bladder
  • Pain in the pelvic region
  • Severe pain and burning when urinating

Symptoms can change from time to time and will vary between patients, but one consistency is that interstitial cystitis is chronic and/or long term.

Treating cystitis

There are several courses of action to take, depending on the underlying cause of cystitis, and the treatments are variable from case to case. Most patients respond well to medications, such as antibiotics for a UTI or anti-inflammatory drugs that can help reduce swelling. Even interstitial cystitis may benefit from certain types of medication, depending on the diagnosis and known cause of the issue.

In some instances, such as a known structural issue to the urinary tract, surgery may be applicable to remedy the syndrome, especially if it is chronic. However, this is rarely the initial choice physicians suggest when working with patients experiencing cystitis.

Some of the most important ways to treat cystitis are to take advantage of home care options that help relieve symptoms. If the condition is related to a UTI, or if the patient is more susceptible to UTIs, it is especially important to take precautions that help reduce the likelihood of developing an infection.

Some effective preventative measures are:

  • Drinking lots of fluids to keep the bladder flushed out
  • Drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry tablets
  • Wearing only cotton underwear and loose fitting clothes
  • Avoiding caffeine and other foods and drinks that can exacerbate symptoms or increase risk of infection

Once cystitis develops, some ways to relieve painful symptoms include:

  • Using a heating pad on the abdomen or lower back to ease muscle tightness and reduce pain
  • Ibuprofen and/or acetaminophen for inflammation and pain, both available over the counter
  • Taking a sitz bath – a warm, shallow bath that is meant to clean the perineum (space between the rectum and the vulva or scrotum), as well as to relieve pain or itching that occurs in the genital region but can also help with cystitis


A doctor may use imaging or a cystoscopy to diagnosis cystitis, as well as several other testing opportunities. Once the condition is confirmed, the physician will likely look for an underlying cause, and when that is clear, treatment can be prescribed. Even if an underlying condition isn’t found, the doctor will probably assist the patient in finding ways to help relieve symptoms and control the course of the ailment. Changing diet and exercise and adjusting lifestyle can also help keep cystitis from interfering with a patient’s everyday events.

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