What is cystitis?

Cystitis is an inflammation of the bladder. Inflammation is where part of your body becomes irritated, red, or swollen.

In most cases, the cause of cystitis is a urinary tract infection (UTI). A UTI happens when bacteria enter the bladder or urethra and begin to multiply.

This could also happen with naturally occurring bacteria in your body that become imbalanced. These bacteria lead to an infection and cause inflammation.

Cystitis does not always come from an infection. For example, certain medicines and hygiene products can also cause inflammation. Treatment for cystitis depends on its underlying cause. Most cases of cystitis are acute, or occur suddenly. Interstitial cystitis cases are chronic, or long term.

Cystitis can affect anyone, but it occurs most often in women.

What are the symptoms of cystitis?

Symptoms of cystitis can include:

  • frequent urge to urinate
  • urge to urinate after you’ve emptied your bladder
  • cloudy or strong-smelling urine
  • a low fever if in combination with a UTI
  • blood in your urine
  • pain during sexual intercourse
  • sensations of pressure or bladder fullness
  • cramping in your abdomen or back

If a bladder infection spreads to your kidneys, it can become a serious health issue. In addition to the symptoms listed above, symptoms of a kidney infection include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • back or side pain
  • chills

Also, two additional symptoms, fever or blood in the urine, aren’t symptoms of cystitis in themselves. However, they may occur in association with the other symptoms of a kidney infection.

Seek immediate medical attention if you think you have a kidney infection.

Causes of cystitis

The type of cystitis depends on its cause. Possible causes of cystitis include:

  • urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • taking certain drugs
  • exposure to radiation
  • ongoing use of a catheter
  • irritating hygiene products

Types of cystitis

Cystitis can be either acute or interstitial. Acute cystitis is a case of cystitis that occurs suddenly. Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a chronic or long-term case of cystitis that affects multiple layers of bladder tissue. Both acute and interstitial cystitis have a range of possible causes. The cause of cystitis determines the type. The following are types of cystitis:

Bacterial cystitis

Bacterial cystitis occurs when bacteria enter your urethra or bladder and cause an infection. This can also result when normally growing bacteria in your body becomes imbalanced. The infection leads to cystitis, or inflammation in your bladder.

It is important to treat a bladder infection. If the infection spreads you your kidneys it can become a serious health issue.

Drug-induced cystitis

Certain medications can cause your bladder to become inflamed. Medicines pass through your body, and eventually exit through your urinary system. Some medications can irritate your bladder as they exit your body.

For example, the chemotherapy drugs cyclophosphamide and ifosfamide can cause cystitis.

Radiation cystitis

Radiation therapy is used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors, but it can also damage healthy cells and tissues. Radiation treatment in the pelvic area can cause your bladder to become inflamed.

Foreign body cystitis

Ongoing use of a catheter, a tube used to facilitate the release of urine from the bladder, can increase your risk of bacterial infection, and damage tissues in the urinary tract. Both bacteria and damaged tissues can cause inflammation.

Chemical cystitis

Certain hygiene products can irritate your bladder. Products that may cause cystitis include:

  • spermicidal jellies
  • use of a diaphragm with spermicide
  • feminine hygiene sprays
  • chemicals from a bubble bath

Cystitis associated with other conditions

Sometimes cystitis occurs as a symptom of other medical conditions, such as:

  • diabetes
  • kidney stones
  • HIV
  • enlarged prostate
  • spinal injuries

Who is at risk for cystitis?

Cystitis is more common in women due to their shorter urethra. However, both men and women are at risk for this condition.

Women may be at a higher risk for cystitis if they:

  • are sexually active
  • are pregnant
  • use diaphragms with spermicide
  • have experienced menopause
  • are utilizing irritating personal hygiene products

Men may be at a higher risk for cystitis if they have an enlarged prostate due to retention of urine in the bladder.

Risk factors common to men and women include:

  • current or recent urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • radiation therapy
  • chemotherapy
  • use of a catheter
  • diabetes
  • kidney stones
  • HIV
  • spinal injuries
  • interference with the flow of urine

How is cystitis diagnosed?

There are a few different ways to diagnose cystitis. Your doctor may ask for a urine sample to determine the cause of your cystitis and check for a UTI. Your doctor may also perform cystoscopy, or an imaging test to determine the cause of your symptoms.


In a cystoscopy, a doctor inspects your bladder with a thin tube that has a camera and light attached. Doctors can use the cystoscope to collect a biopsy of bladder tissue if needed. A biopsy is a small tissue sample used for further testing.

Imaging test

Imaging tests are not often necessary, but they can be helpful in diagnosing cystitis. An X-ray or ultrasound can help rule out other causes of cystitis, such as a structural issue or tumor.

How is cystitis treated?


Antibiotics are a common treatment for bacterial cystitis. Interstitial cystitis can also be treated with medication. Medication for interstitial cystitis depends on its cause.


Surgery can treat cystitis, but it may not be the doctor’s first choice. It is more common for chronic conditions. Sometimes surgery can repair a structural issue.

Home care

Home care treatments can help ease discomfort. Common methods are:

  • applying heating pads to your abdomen or back
  • over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen
  • sitz baths to cleanse the pelvic area

Sometimes you can manage cystitis symptoms at home, without taking medication. These should not replace antibiotics if they are needed to treat a UTI. Common home therapy methods are:

  • cranberry juice or tablets
  • drinking lots of fluids
  • wearing cotton underwear and loose fitting clothes
  • avoiding any food or beverages that you suspect make your symptoms worse

Alternative therapies

There are other nonsurgical procedures for cystitis. Sometimes stretching the bladder with water or gas can temporarily improve symptoms. Nerve stimulation can lower the frequency of bathroom visits and may relieve pelvic pain. And for cystitis caused by radiation or chemotherapy, medication can help flush the bladder.

What is the outlook for cystitis?


The outlook of cystitis is dependent on the cause of the symptoms. In general, the outlook for cystitis is good. However, it is important to treat the underlying condition as soon as possible. If you experience symptoms of cystitis, it’s best to contact a doctor.

While recovering from cystitis, you should:

  • drink plenty of fluids
  • avoid caffeinated drinks, as these can irritate your bladder
  • urinate frequently, rather than “holding it”
  • wear cotton underwear and loose fitting clothes

Preventing cystitis

Women should wipe from front to back after a bowel movement to prevent the spread of bacteria from feces. In addition, taking showers instead of baths may also help. Make sure to wash skin gently in the genital area. Women should empty their bladders after sexual intercourse, and drink water. Finally, avoid any products that irritate the area.

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