Cystitis is an infection or inflammation of the bladder. The bladder is a sac-shaped organ which stores urine produced by the kidneys. It has 2 tubes which run into it (the ureters) bringing urine from the kidneys, and one tube which takes the urine away (the urethra). The urethra may also be inflamed (urethritis) when you have cystitis.
Cystitis is usually caused by bacteria which have made their way into the bladder, generally via the urethra. The most common bacterium involved is Escherichia coli, which is found in the rectal area, but other bacteria or infectious agents can also cause it.
Anatomically, women are more likely to get cystitis than men. Females have shorter urethras than males, making it easier for bacteria to enter the bladder. Also, in women the opening of the urethra is closer to the anus, where the bacteria are found.
Another cause of cystitis is inflammation of the urethra after having sex. This is caused by the continual rubbing of the urethral opening during sexual activity. Symptoms usually develop within 12 hours of having sex.
Symptoms of cystitis can also be caused by local irritants. Some people are allergic or will react to vaginal deodorants, perfumed soaps or talcum powders, even some types of toilet paper.
Occasionally children will get cystitis. In some cases this is caused by an anatomical abnormality which forces urine back up the ureters, disrupting the flow of urine through the urinary system. Any child who has symptoms of cystitis should see a doctor.
People who have difficulty moving, such as disabled people or older adults, can also be troubled with cystitis. This is because the bladder may not completely empty, or urine is not passed as frequently as it should be.
Children and adults who ‘hold-on’ too long after they get the urge to urinate may also be more prone to cystitis.
More rarely, cystitis may be caused by tumours, other medical conditions (such as pelvic inflammatory disorders, Crohn’s disease or lupus) or a reaction to certain medicines.
In adults, cystitis generally causes frequent and painful urination. The pain is often described as a burning sensation. The urine can be smelly, look cloudy or have blood in it. You may feel unwell and have persistent pain above the pelvic bone or in your back.
In older adults or young children the symptoms may not be so obvious. A generalised illness with a fever, tummy-ache or vomiting may be the only symptoms. In the older adult, a period of agitation or worsening confusion may be caused by cystitis.
For an accurate diagnosis, your doctor will require a urine sample. This test is done to confirm the diagnosis and to find out what kind of bacteria are causing the infection (so the most appropriate antibiotic can be prescribed).
Wash the end of the penis or the vaginal area with warm water (alternatively, you may be asked to wipe the area with a disinfectant). Women should wash from front to back. You should try to give a ‘mid-stream’ sample — pass a small amount of urine into the toilet, pause, then pass a small amount into the test pot (about 4 teaspoons), pause, then pass the rest into the toilet. Do not touch the inside of the test pot as it is sterile.
Occasionally, cystitis can cause more serious problems. See your doctor if:
If you have repeated urinary tract infections you may need to be referred to a specialist doctor (urologist). You may need tests to find out if your ureter and bladder are normal, and that your kidneys have not been damaged by the repeated infections. In rare cases, surgery may be needed.
Last Reviewed: 22 November 2009