What Is Cystitis? 

Cystitis is an inflammation of the bladder that affects countless individuals worldwide, predominantly women. This condition can be both uncomfortable and disruptive to daily life, manifesting through symptoms such as a persistent urge to urinate, a burning sensation during urination, and cloudy urine.

The etiology of cystitis is multifaceted, involving a range of factors from bacterial infection to non-infectious causes like bladder irritation. This guide will dive into the various triggers, the distinct symptoms experienced by sufferers, and the different types of cystitis, hopefully providing you with a thorough understanding of the condition.

Causes of Cystitis

Even though UTIs are considered the most common cause of cystitis, other non-infectious sources can also trigger it. Chemicals included in some hygiene products can cause cystitis, for example, as well as certain medications, the long-term use of catheters, or radiation treatment for cancer. 

Pregnancy and menopause are also known to increase the risk of cystitis. Underlying conditions such as a narrowed urethra, frequently recurring UTIs, diabetes, and kidney stones are also known to contribute.  

Although it often causes pain and urinary issues, cystitis is not contagious and cannot be spread to a partner during intercourse. However, if left untreated, cystitis can develop into a more serious kidney infection.   

Cystitis Symptoms

The symptoms of cystitis are very similar to those associated with a UTI and often, but not always, include the following: 

  • Frequent & urgent need to urinate
  • Small frequent amounts of urine
  • A burning sensation when urinating 
  • Appearance of some blood in the urine (pink pee)
  • Cloudy urine with a strong odor 
  • Low grade fever (rare)
  • Pelvic pain or discomfort (back pain and/or lower abdominal pain)

While most of the above symptoms are also commonly experienced with a UTI, some additional symptoms can help distinguish a UTI from cystitis. Additional symptoms of cystitis can include: 

  • High fever
  • Chills/night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Cystitis or UTI: How to Know for Sure?

The only sure way of distinguishing cystitis from a UTI is to schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider for a diagnosis. After understanding your symptoms and inquiring about your medical history, healthcare providers might perform a pelvic exam and take a urine sample for testing to confirm cystitis or a UTI.  

If cystitis is confirmed but the cause is not a UTI, additional tests like cystoscopy, MRI, or ultrasound might be performed to determine the root of the bladder inflammation. 

Different Types of Cystitis

Cystitis is typically categorized as bacterial cystitis or non-infectious cystitis. Bacterial cystitis is normally caused by a UTI, whereas the various types of non-infectious cystitis are categorized according to the underlying cause. 

Bacterial Cystitis 

Although other bacteria can instigate UTIs, most are caused by the spread of E. coli. Known to reside around the anus, which is closely located to the urethra in women, this type of bacteria is easily spread during sex, or when women wipe from back to front after using the toilet.  

Chemical Cystitis

Some women are more sensitive to chemicals and synthetic ingredients than others and certain hygiene products can cause allergic reactions, pH imbalances, genital irritation, and bladder inflammation. These can include synthetically fragranced soaps, bath gels, or detergents, as well as douches, and spermicides. 

Drug-Related Cystitis

When dissolved elements of certain medications are flushed from the body, they can cause inflammation of the bladder, and symptoms of cystitis ensue. 

Foreign Body Cystitis

As the name suggests, this type of cystitis is caused by the presence of a foreign object in the body, typically a catheter. 

Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial cystitis is a chronic form of cystitis, in that, it is known to last long-term. The exact cause is unknown and as of yet, no cure exists, but symptoms can be managed with lifestyle modifications and natural supplements. 

Radiation Cystitis

Undergoing radiation treatment to the pelvic area can cause pelvic inflammation and cystitis. 

Underlying Conditions

Women with diabetes, kidney stones, spinal injuries, or underlying urinary issues can suffer from cystitis due to an inability to properly empty the bladder. 

Treatment and Prevention

Cystitis treatment varies based on the cause but primarily focuses on relieving symptoms and preventing further infections. For bacterial cystitis, the most common approach includes:

  • Antibiotics: The main treatment for bacterial infections. The type and duration of antibiotic therapy can depend on the severity of the symptoms and the patient's medical history.
  • Pain Relief: Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, may be recommended to alleviate pain and discomfort.
  • Increased Fluid Intake: Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, can help flush bacteria from the urinary system.
  • Avoiding Irritants: Reducing or eliminating bladder irritants from the diet (caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods) can help minimize symptoms.
  • Applying Heat: A warm pad or bottle placed on the lower abdomen might relieve discomfort.

For non-bacterial or interstitial cystitis, treatment might involve lifestyle changes, physical therapy, medications to help control symptoms, or procedures to stretch the bladder or instill medications directly into the bladder.

Preventive measures are also important and can include practicing good personal hygiene, urinating after sexual activity, and avoiding the use of irritating bath products.

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