What is Cystitis?
Cystitis is an infection of the bladder, and is also commonly referred to as a urinary tract infection (UTI). It is often used to describe a wide range of infections, inflammations, or irritations of the lower urinary tract.
Cystitis occurs when bacteria enters the bladder via the urethra (the tube that goes from the bladder out of the body). Because the urethra is located near the anal area, infection tends to occur quite easily. Women have a shorter urethra than men and are subsequently more prone to cystitis.
Pregnant, menopausal and sexually active women may experience frequent episodes of this bladder infection, but it can affect all age groups from either sex. Though cystitis is less common in men, it can be caused by an enlarged prostate. If not treated immediately, it can become very serious.
Recurring episodes of cystitis require medical attention, while a milder case can be treated at home. There are numerous ways to control and treat the pain and discomfort caused by this condition. Various treatment options such as conventional drug therapies, complementary and alternative therapies are available to relieve the symptoms of cystitis.
The diagnosis of cystitis is partly based on the symptoms and signs. The most obvious symptom of cystitis is a burning sensation when urinating, usually accompanied by a nagging need for frequent urination every few minutes. Severe pain, lower abdominal pain, traces of blood in the urine, strong smelling urine, and overall discomfort are also usually felt.
Tests for Cystitis
- Urine test by using a dipstick in the urine sample
- Urine culture where specimen is sent to a laboratory to examine bacteria
For recurrent cystitis or in the case of inexplicable infections, further tests may include:
- Ultrasound scan
- Cytoscopy (fiber-optic examination of the bladder)
What are the Symptoms of Cystitis?
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Frequent urination
- Feeling of incomplete emptying after urination
- Sense of urgency to urinate
- Dark, cloudy, strong smelling urine
- Pain felt directly above pubic bone
- Pain in lower back or abdomen
What Causes Cystitis?
The most common cause of cystitis is a bacterial infection from the genital area. There are many factors that contribute to bacteria settling in the bladder.
Major Causes of Cystitis Inducing Bacteria
- Poor toilet hygiene – women must wipe themselves front to back to avoid bacteria being spread from the anus to the urethra
- An enlarged prostate gland in men causes blockage of urine outflow and bladder infections can occur in the ‘stagnant’ urine in the bladder
- Individuals with a catheter have a higher risk of infections such as cystitis and blood infections
- Congenital deformity in the urinary system preventing the complete emptying of the bladder
- Pregnant women may have bacteria in their urine caused by not emptying their bladders completely. If this is the case, a urine culture test is often performed twice to prevent the risk of kidney infection and pre-term delivery
- ‘Honeymoon cystitis’ often occurs when women engage in vigorous or frequent physical activity which causes bruising and physical damage
- Contact dermatitis can develop when women use irritants such as bath oil or talc on their genital area, leading to cystitis
- Postmenopausal women experience many changes in their body due to a lack of female sex hormones, and as a result the urinary system is more prone to developing cystitis.
- Women who use a diaphragm as a method of contraception are more prone to cystitis
Note: Venereal diseases such as Gonorrhea and Chlamydia have cystitis-like symptoms, such as a burning sensation when urinating, an inflamed cervix, vaginal discharge, and bleeding after intercourse. If cystitis infection does not respond well to treatment, it is important to have a medical examination to rule out other conditions which may need treatment.
Help for Cystitis
There are various treatments used to treat and relieve the symptoms of cystitis. These may include drug therapy as well as complementary and natural therapies – as well as education and preventative measures.
Drug therapy includes:
- Over-the-counter drugs such as painkillers or antispasmodics, eg. paracetamol or ibuprofen
- Over-the counter solutions to relieve cystitis symptoms such as citrate or potassium citrate
- Antibiotics such as Amoxicillin and Sulfa drugs (sulfonamides)
- Surgery may be recommended for complicated cystitis if there is an underlying physical abnormality or cause
Complementary therapy includes:
- Nutritional therapies
- Pelvic floor treatments (to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles)
Pregnant women should consult their GP or pharmacist before taking any medication. Use these therapies as part of your broader treatment plan to reduce discomfort and pain.
Is there a Natural Treatment for Cystitis?
Natural treatments such as herbal medicine and homeopathic therapies can be very successful in clearing infection and alleviating the symptoms of cystitis, while also promoting overall health and well-being. Herbal remedies are safe, effective, and free of harmful side effects. Some commonly recommended herbal remedies for bladder infections and cystitis include Agothosma betulina (Buchu), Arctostaphylos uva-ursi , Melissa Officinalis (Lemon balm), Avena Sativa, Hypericum perforatum (St. John's Wort), Vaccinium myrtillus (Billberry) and Echinacea angustifolia. Homeopathic remedies can also be very successful and will depend on the symptoms experienced as well as the physical composition of the individual.
One of the advantages of natural treatment is the avoidance of antibiotics, which are well known to increase the incidence of repeat infections. Consult an herbalist or homeopath to help you choose a remedy based on your symptoms.