We explain possible causes of cystitis & share tips on how to help treat cystitis symptoms at home

Cystitis is bladder inflammation that's generally triggered by an infection. It’s a relatively common type of urinary tract infection (UTI), especially in women, though it can also affect men and children. 

Although cystitis may be uncomfortable, it’s not a cause for serious concern and usually clears up on its own. In some cases you may need to take a short course of antibiotics. 

What causes cystitis?

It's believed that most cases of cystitis occur when bacteria that live harmlessly in your bowel move into the bladder. Women are more likely than men to have cystitis. This is because a woman’s urethra is shorter and opens nearer the anus. 

Nearly half of women will have at least one bout of cystitis in their lives and one in three women will have had the infection by the age of 24.

You may be more prone to getting cystitis if you: 

• Have a weak immune system
• Are aged less than 12 months or over 75 years old
• Have gone through the menopause
• Are sexually active or pregnant
• Use spermicide as a form of contraception
• Have a catheter or problems with your bladder, urinary system or kidneys
• Have diabetes

What are the symptoms of cystitis?

Symptoms of cystitis/UTIs can include:

• Feeling pain or a burning sensation when you urinate
• Needing to go to the toilet more urgently and frequently than usual
• Passing urine that has a strong odour, is dark or cloudy
• Experiencing pain in the lower abdomen
• Feeling achy, sick or fatigued

Symptoms that may occur in young children include:

• A pressing or more frequent need to urinate
• A temperature of 38°C or above
• Abdominal pain or vomiting
• A diminished appetite

Cystitis symptoms in women and adults usually don’t cause a fever. If you do have a high temperature of 38°C or above and are experiencing discomfort in your lower back and sides, it may be a sign of a kidney infection. Visit your GP if you’re concerned about your symptoms or if this is the first time you've had cystitis. 

What treatments are available for cystitis?

If you’ve been having mild symptoms for less than three days, you can manage your symptoms at home or consult a pharmacist for advice. 

Until the discomfort has decreased, it may help to: 

• Take over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol. Read the patient information leaflet or speak to your pharmacist to check if these are suitable for you
• Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
• Avoid having sexual intercourse until you start feeling better
• Try to urinate regularly
• Wash your genitals using soap for sensitive skin
• Hold a hot water bottle against your stomach

Some people think that cranberry drinks and products ease the acidity of their urine, but there’s a lack of evidence to support the effectiveness of these home remedies. 

If your GP diagnoses you with cystitis, you’ll generally be prescribed a course of antibiotics. These should start to make a difference within a day or two. Go back to your GP if your symptoms don’t start to improve after a few days from starting the antibiotic.

If you get cystitis on a regular basis, your GP may give you an antibiotic prescription to bring to the pharmacy whenever you develop symptoms. In this case you wouldn’t have to see a GP first. In certain cases, your GP can also prescribe a low dose of antibiotics that could be taken continuously over the course of several months.

When should I see a GP? 

Most cases of mild cystitis can resolve with a bit of self-care and painkillers to help relieve discomfort. However, you should see your GP if you:

• Have severe symptoms, like blood in your urine
• Think your child might have cystitis
• Are pregnant
• Get cystitis frequently
• Don't feel your symptoms have improved within three days
• Are unsure if it is cystitis or something else

It’s important to note that UTIs in general are often divided into two categories and each require different medical care: complicated and uncomplicated. An uncomplicated UTI typically occurs in people who:

• Are female
• Are healthy
• Are not pregnant
• Are premenopausal
• Have a functionally normal urinary tract and kidney function

A complicated UTI has an increased likelihood of complications such as a persistent infection. They can by default occur in a male or in a female who:

• Is postmenopausal
• Is pregnant
• Has a foreign body in their urinary tract, such as a catheter 
• Has more than one illness or disease occurring at the same time, such as diabetes
• Has a functionally abnormal tract and kidney function

Your GP should be able to diagnose cystitis by asking about your symptoms, though they may test a sample of your urine for bacteria to confirm diagnosis.

You should also visit your GP if you're experiencing symptoms of interstitial cystitis. Signs you may have this condition include long-term or frequent pain low in your stomach and problems urinating. The condition mostly affects middle-aged women, and unlike regular cystitis, there's no clear infection in the bladder. Antibiotics are not used to treat interstitial cystitis, but your GP can recommend ways to help ease your symptoms. 

How can cystitis be prevented? 

If you get cystitis frequently, there are some techniques you can use to help avoid another bout of it. Though these methods aren't cures, some people find they help manage symptoms or prevent cystitis recurring.  

Methods include:

• Drinking plenty of fluids
• Showering, rather than having a bath
• Using unperfumed toiletries near your genitals
• Going to the toilet as soon as you need to urinate and wiping from front to back
• Completely emptying your bladder when you go to the toilet and straight after having sex
• Changing methods of contraception if you use a diaphragm
• Wearing cotton underwear, rather than those made from synthetic materials
• Avoiding wearing very tight trousers

How can your pharmacist help?

If you have a mild case of cystitis, your local Boots pharmacy is the first place you can go for advice. No appointment is required, simply pop down to your local pharmacy to see if a member of our team is available to chat. During busier periods waiting times may vary.

In order for our pharmacy teams to give you the best possible care, you may be asked questions about your symptoms and given advice on how you can manage them moving forward.

If you would like to speak in private most of our stores have a private consultation room where you can speak to a member of our pharmacy team discreetly.

If our pharmacist feels your symptoms require further support or advice they may refer you to another healthcare professional, such as your GP.

Next steps

• If you have a mild case of cystitis, at-home treatments such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can help relieve pain, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. As previously discussed, you can consult your pharmacist for treatment advice

• If home remedies don’t work or symptoms are particularly severe, visit your GP who may prescribe a course of antibiotics

• Be sure to use preventative measures, such as going to the toilet as soon as you need to urinate, always wiping from front to back, staying hydrated and not using perfumed bubble bath, soap or talcum powder near your genitals

If you think you have cystitis and want to get treatment discreetly and conveniently at a time to suit you, take a look at our Cystitis Treatment Service.*

Need advice on what’s right for you? Ask a Boots pharmacist first

*Charges apply. You must be 18 or over to use this service.