Cystitis is an inflammation of the bladder typically caused by a bacterial urinary tract infection (UTI). This disorder most often occurs in women because their anatomy includes a short urethra in close proximity to the anus. Bacteria found can too easily make their way into the urethra with incomplete genital hygiene or during sexual activity. Bacterial cystitis can usually be treated effectively with antibiotics, but, left untreated, can lead to kidney disease. Cystitis may also result from certain medications, allergies, or underlying disease conditions.

Causes of Cystitis

There are two primary types of cystitis, differentiated by the cause of the bladder inflammation.

Infectious Cystitis

In most cases, cystitis is the result of bacteria, usually E.coli (Escherichia coli), entering the urinary tract. Though bladder infections more commonly occur in women who are sexually active, they can also occur in girls or women who do not engage in sexual activity because of the ease with which bacteria from any source can find their way into the female urethra. Men also develop bacterial cystitis, but much more rarely than women do.

Although unusual, it is possible for cystitis to be caused by a viral bladder infection.

Noninfectious Cystitis

While bacterial infections are the most common cause of the disorder, the bladder can become inflamed as a result of other factors, including:

  • Certain medications, particularly chemotherapy drugs
  • Radiation treatment of the pelvic region
  • Long-term catheter use
  • Allergies to chemicals
  • Alterations in hormone levels during pregnancy or after menopause
  • Underlying disease conditions
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Interstitial cystitis, a chronic bladder inflammation

The disease conditions that increase risk of developing cystitis are generally those that affect the immune system, such as diabetes or HIV/AIDS. Chemically induced cystitis may be the result of contact with bubble bath, feminine hygiene sprays or spermicidal jellies.

Anything that interferes with the normal flow of urine can allow bacteria to proliferate and an infection to develop. This includes an enlarged prostate, kidney, urethral, or ureteral stones.

Symptoms of Cystitis

Cystitis can cause several uncomfortable symptoms, including:

  • Constant urge to urinate
  • Passage of only small amounts of urine
  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Passage of cloudy or malodorous urine
  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • Pressure in the abdomen

In children who have already been toilet-trained, episodic daytime wetting may indicate the presence of cystitis.

Serious symptoms associated with cystitis require immediate medical consultation. These include:

  • Fever
  • Pain in the side or back
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blood in the urine (hematuria)

If symptoms of cystitis recur after a course of antibiotic treatment, it is necessary to contact the physician since a different antibiotic may be needed to fully eradicate the infection.

Diagnosis of Cystitis

Cystitis is diagnosed through a physical examination and one or more of the following tests:

  • Urinalysis
  • Cystoscopy
  • Ultrasound
  • X-rays
  • CT or MRI scan

Urinalysis checks for bacteria in the urine or other signs of infection or underlying conditions, while the other diagnostic tests are used to detect anatomical problems. Blood tests may also be administered to check for other diseases.

Treatment of Cystitis

Infectious cystitis is typically treated with a course of antibiotics. Women prone to sexually induced cystitis are sometimes advised to take a single dose of antibiotic after intercourse; postmenopausal women may find prescribed vaginal estrogen cream helpful in preventing inflammation.

Treatments of noninfectious cases of cystitis vary greatly according to underlying cause. They may involve a simple solution like discontinuing the use of a certain product, more complex treatment of another disease condition, or even surgery.

Prevention of Cystitis

While it is not possible to avoid ever having cystitis, the following recommendations have been found helpful by many female patients:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water and cranberry juice
  • Urinate frequently
  • Maintain proper genital hygiene
  • Take a single dose of prescribed antibiotic after intercourse
  • Use prescribed vaginal estrogen cream after menopause

Men can also lower their risk of cystitis by remaining well hydrated, urinating frequently, practicing good genital hygiene, and having regular checkups to detect any problems with their prostate glands.

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