Learn about cystitis & our top tips for helping prevent this common bladder infection

What is cystitis & what are the symptoms?

Cystitis is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI). More specifically, it’s inflammation of the bladder, usually caused by a bladder infection. Cystitis symptoms in women are more common than in men. However, men can still experience cystitis. If you have symptoms, you may experience:

• Pain, burning or stinging when you pee

• Needing to pee more often and urgently than usual

• Cloudy, dark or strong-smelling urine

• Pain in your lower tummy

In older people with cognitive impairment (such as dementia) and people with a urinary catheter, symptoms may also include:

• Changes in behaviour, such as acting confused or agitated (delirium)

• Wetting themselves more than usual

• Shivering or shaking (rigors)

Babies and children may get cystitis and must be referred to a GP quickly for a diagnosis and treatment to reduce the risk of complications. Symptoms may be numerous and quite vague, including:

• A high temperature – they feel hotter than usual if you touch their neck, back or tummy

• Wetting themselves

• Reduced appetite and being sick

• Weakness and irritability

What causes cystitis

Most cases of cystitis are caused by bacteria from the bowels entering the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of your body) and getting into the bladder. It’s more common in women because they have a shorter urethra than men, which means bacteria is more likely to reach the bladder and cause an infection. The following things can increase the risk of this happening:

• Having sex 

• Being pregnant

• Wiping from back-to-front after going to the toilet

• Having been through the menopause

• Using spermicide as a form of contraception

• Having diabetes

• Having a weakened immune system

• Having a urinary catheter 

• Having a condition that blocks the urinary tract, such as kidney stones

• Having a condition that makes it difficult to fully empty the bladder, such as an enlarged prostate gland in men

You may experience cystitis only once or occasionally, but for some people it can be a recurring problem.

5 tips for helping to prevent cystitis

If you’re someone who experiences cystitis frequently, there are things you can do to help avoid it. None of these are cures, simply helpful measures to try.

1. Wipe your bottom from front-to-back 

This is a simple change to make after going to the toilet. Wiping from front-to-back instead of the other way around helps reduce the risk of bacteria from the anus getting into the bladder.

2. Don’t hold pee in

If you need to urinate, do so as soon as you can and make sure to fully empty your bladder. It’s advised to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, during the day so that you pee regularly. 

3. Take measures before, during & after sex

It’s a good idea to wash the skin around the vagina with water before and after sex, as well as peeing straight after sex. It’s thought that spermicides that are used with diaphragms or condoms can increase the risk of cystitis, so try using a non-spermicidal lubricant or consider a different type of contraception.

4. Keep genital areas clean & dry

Keeping clean down there is a given, but there are a few extra helpful things to know, too. Try to avoid using scented soaps, body washes or talcum powder as these can irritate some people’s genital areas. Go for fragrance-free options instead. It’s also advised to shower instead of taking a bath to limit the amount of time your genitals come into contact with cleansing products.

Choose cotton underwear rather than synthetic material such as nylon and avoid wearing tight jeans and trousers. This helps keep the airflow around your genitals and avoids too much moisture building up.  

Change soiled nappies in babies promptly. And if you or someone you’re caring for uses incontinence pads, they should be changed as soon as necessary.

5. Think about what you drink

Drink plenty of water every day and try to avoid alcoholic drinks and coffee which may irritate the bladder. Sugary food and drinks should also be avoided as they may encourage bacteria to grow. 

What to do if you have cystitis

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 functionMild cases of cystitis generally clear up by themselves within a few days. You can ask a pharmacist for advice on how to help relieve mild symptoms. They will recommend the best pain relief options for you to consider and let you know whether you should see your GP. 

For mild symptoms of cystitis it may help to:

• Consider taking paracetamol up to four times a day to help reduce pain

• Hold a hot water bottle on your tummy or between your thighs

• Avoid having sex

• Head to your local Boots pharmacy for more advice

If you do need to see a GP, they may:

• Do a urine test, although this is not always necessary 

• Give you a prescription for a three-day course of antibiotics, but may suggest you wait for 48 hours before taking them, in case your symptoms go away on their own

If you repeatedly get cystitis, your GP may prescribe:

• A single-dose antibiotic to take within two hours of having sex, if you've noticed sex triggers cystitis

• A low-dose antibiotic to take for up to six months

• A vaginal oestrogen cream, if you’ve gone through the menopause

You can also find advice, support and treatment, if appropriate, via our Boots Online Doctor Cystitis Treatment service.* 

How can your pharmacist help?

After familiarising yourself with the symptoms, if you suspect you have a mild case of cystitis, your local Boots pharmacy can be the first port of call you can go for advice. You won’t need to make an appointment for this. Head down to your local pharmacy and a member of our team may be on hand to give you advice. Please note, during busier periods, a pharmacist may not be available and waiting times can vary.

Our pharmacy team members will discuss your symptoms and will provide advice and may suggest over-the-counter medication if appropriate.

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.

When to seek urgent help for cystitis

Ring 111 or ask for an urgent GP appointment if you think you or someone else has cystitis and:

• A high temperature, or feeling hot and shivery

• A low temperature, or shaking and shivering

• Pain in the lower tummy or in the back, just under the ribs

• Are confused, drowsy or have difficulty speaking

• Are feeling or being sick

• Have not had a pee all day

• Have blood in your pee

These cystitis symptoms could mean you have a kidney infection, which can be serious if it’s not treated as it could cause sepsis. 

NHS Pharmacy First Service in England, receive advice & treatment for seven common health conditions32

*Access to prescription only medicine is subject to a consultation with a clinician to assess suitability. Charges apply.