Erm, what actually is cystitis?
Cystitis is a common type of urinary tract infection (UTI) – aka “owww, it burns when I pee” or “I’ve been on the loo so long, maybe I should move the TV into the bathroom?”
Basically this means your bladder is inflamed, which happens when rogue bacteria finds its way into your bladder through the urethra.
The soul singer?
No that’s Aretha. Your urethra is the tiny tube your pee travels down – though like Ms Franklin, it also deserves R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
Feeling the burn…
The most common symptoms of a UTI are a burning, stinging sensation in your bladder and the desperate urge to pee more frequently. You might also have pee that’s darker or cloudier than normal, aches and pains in your lower abdomen and general fluey tiredness.
Some lucky people never experience it at all, but if you have, the first thing to say is: don’t worry. Cystitis is super common and generally nothing to worry about at all. The second thing to say is: poor you. Because while it might not be serious, it sure ain’t fun.
But isn’t cystitis… er, a sex thing?
NOPE. Or at least, not always. One of the most popular misconceptions about UTIs is that they’re only caught via sex (hence cystitis sometimes being referred to in an embarrassing, nudge-nudge-wink-wink way as ‘the honeymoon disease’) but the truth is they can be triggered by plenty of things, at any age, whether or not you’re sexually active. So it’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed to tell someone about – or text for help from your bathroom throne.
Causes of cystitis can include: wiping your bum from back to front, chemical irritants like scented shower gel and bubble bath, inserting tampons messily, not emptying your bladder fully, tight jeans or pants, dehydration or holding your wee in for too long. And yes, sex too. Friction around your pee hole is the most common way for bacteria to find its way in.
TL;DR? What is Cystitis - the important stuff:
- Cystitis is a type of urinary tract infection, which can occur when bacteria gets into your bladder.
- The most common symptoms are burning, stinging feeling when you pee, and the urge to pee more frequently than usual. Ow.
- Scented products, wiping back to front, holding your bladder and friction from tight clothes can all cause cystitis – not just sex.
- Drinking lots of water, going to the loo and taking painkillers will often get rid of it, but your GP can prescribe antibiotics in more severe cases.
Boys and men can also get cystitis, but girls and women are much more prone to it because our urethra is shorter and everything’s a bit more crowded down there. Cheers for that design feature, Mother Nature.
How do I fight the fire?
With fire! No, we’re kidding. That has basically never been good advice.
It might feel as though you’re never going to be able to get off the toilet, but don’t panic – most bouts of cystitis clear up within a day or two, if you catch them. The best way to treat it is to drink lots of water, and keep going to the loo regularly until the urge passes.
Painkillers such as Ibuprofen or paracetamol to ease the pain (ask an adult and follow the packet instructions) or a hot water bottle between your legs might help soothe things too.
You can also take over-the-counter powder to help relieve the symptoms (it’s not a taste sensation, you’ve been warned), while many people swear by drinking cranberry juice to help cure and prevent UTIs. Doctors are dubious about whether it actually works, though, and downing a bucketful of juice can just add ‘stomach ache’ to your sufferings.
What if it won’t go away?
If the symptoms don’t ease up or feel like they’re getting worse, head straight to the doctor. They can prescribe antibiotics to clear things up and make sure the infection doesn’t travel into your kidneys (ouch).
A GP can also help if you find you’re getting cystitis all the time – it may be common, but that doesn’t mean you have to just put up with it.
How can I stop it happening again?
The good news is that once you’ve done battle, the fire-breathing UTI dragon is fairly easy to keep at bay.
The best ways to prevent cystitis are through drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding harsh perfumed products near your vagina, always wiping from front to back to avoid transferring bacteria from your bum to urethra, and going to the loo as soon as you need it rather than holding your bladder (Netflix has a pause button for a reason, guys). You might find avoiding tight jeans and underwear helps too.
And a note for the future…
If/when you’re ready to have sex, peeing immediately afterwards is the most effective way to prevent cystitis. It’s almost never shown on TV or in films but believe us – all over the world, cystitis-prone women are leaping from bed and racing cheerfully to the toilet.
So it’s NBD?
Nope! Just an big ol’ pain in the… bladder.
Find out more from the NHS here.