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Find out about the symptoms, causes and treatment of cystitis.

Cystitis means soreness and swelling (inflammation) of the bladder. It is usually caused by a bladder infection and is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is type of urinary tract infection (UTI).

Cystitis can occur at any age, in anyone, but is more common in people with a vagina who are sexually active or pregnant. Almost all women will experience cystitis at least once in their lifetime and around one in five women will get it again (known as recurrent cystitis).

Signs and symptoms of cystitis

Symptoms of cystitis include:

  • A desperate and frequent need to wee but only passing small amounts
  • Pain, burning or stinging when you wee
  • Pain in directly above your pubic area, lower back or abdomen
  • Wee that is dark, cloudy or smelly
  • Traces of blood when you wee
  • Feeling unwell, weak or feverish (hot and cold)

The symptoms of cystitis in people with a penis can be caused by other conditions so should see their GP if they notice symptoms.

The causes of cystitis

Cystitis is usually caused by bacteria reaching the bladder, irritating the bladder lining and causing an infection.

This is more common in people with a vagina because they have a shorter urethra, which makes it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder.

This bacterial infection is usually as a result of:

  • Not emptying your bladder properly (this often happens during pregnancy).
  • Bacteria being transferred from the anus to the urethra which can happen during sex, inserting tampons, using a diaphragm or not wiping front to back when using the toilet.
  • Damage or irritation of the urethra which can be caused by sex, perfumed soap or talcum powder and kidney infections.
  • Thrush and STIs such as gonorrhoea or chlamydia.

Testing for cystitis

You can be tested and treated for cystitis at your nearest GP surgery or at GUM or sexual health clinics. Brook services do not offer testing or treatment for cystitis but if we think you may have cystitis, we will always do our best to advise you on where you can go for further help.

Cystitis can generally be diagnosed by describing your symptoms to but in some cases, your GP may also test your wee to look for bacteria.

If you have recurring cystitis (two infections within six month) that won’t respond to antibiotics, you may need to be referred to a specialist for more tests.

Treatment of cystitis

If it is mild, cystitis can be easily treated at home and should pass within a few days. If it is a more serious case, a short course of antibiotics may be prescribed but if you keep on getting it (recurring cystitis) then you may be given a longer course of antibiotics.

Things you can do to help

  • Take paracetamol
  • Place a hot water bottle on your tummy, back or between your thighs
  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids – this helps your body to flush out the bacteria
  • Make sure to wee when you feel the need to
  • Avoid going anywhere without access to a toilet

Although you cannot pass a UTI on to your partner, it’s wise to stop having sex until it’s cleared up because sex may be uncomfortable and aggravate your symptoms.

Speak to your doctor before you stop taking any prescribed medication.


Avoid taking anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin until a GP has confirmed you don’t have a kidney infection, as this may increase the risk of kidney problems.

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