Last updated:

Reviewed by:

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Cystitis is a common urinary tract infection (UTI). It’s usually caused by our own bacteria travelling from the digestive tract to your urethra, causing your bladder to become inflamed. This is why you may feel the urge to pee a lot.

What are the symptoms of cystitis?

If you have cystitis, you may feel:

  • An urgent and more regular urge to pee

  • Pain, burning or discomfort when you pee

  • Pee that’s cloudy or pinkish (the infection commonly causes a little blood to be present in your pee)

  • Tummy pain

Cystitis is also common in young children and also older people.

What causes cystitis?

Your pee is normally sterile, which means it doesn’t contain bacteria. But bacteria can travel from your bottom or vagina, up the urethra and cause an infection like cystitis. 

More rarely, bacterial infections can affect the bladder directly, by way of specific procedures – like when you have a urinary catheter put in.

Certain factors increase your risk of getting cystitis:

  • The length of your urethra – this tends to be shorter in women, so bacteria have less difficulty moving up it

  • Sex – this can involve the movement of bacteria from one person to another

  • Situations that cause your pee to stagnate in your bladder – including holding your pee, but this can be caused by certain medications. This allows time for bacteria to multiply

  • Menopause – the changing bacteria in your vagina caused by declining oestrogen levels can also cause cystitis

How is cystitis treated?

Cystitis is treated depending on the severity of the infection and how far the infection has travelled.

Some cystitis cases go away on their own, especially if you drink plenty of water to flush the infection through. 

However, if yours doesn’t, talk to a pharmacist or doctor. You can buy a test for cystitis in most pharmacies, or a doctor may request a sample of your pee to confirm the diagnosis.

If the result is positive, the doctor will usually prescribe antibiotics for your infection. Symptoms of cystitis should then disappear within 48 hours of treatment.

Recurrent cystitis

Some people find that their cystitis comes back regularly. If you have 3 or more infections across a 12-month period, this means you have a recurrent infection. Speak to a doctor and they can investigate why this might be happening to determine the best treatment. This might include:

  • Daily or weekly long-term antibiotic treatment 

  • A topical oestrogen cream to help prevent regular infections in menopausal or post-menopausal people

Acute pyelonephritis

More rarely, the bacterial infection can travel to and affect the kidneys, and this is called acute pyelonephritis. This causes inflammation of your kidneys and is one of the most common causes of kidney disease. If you have acute pyelonephritis, you may feel feverish, sick and have pain across your lower back or side. This requires emergency treatment, so seek medical help as soon as you can. 

How can I prevent cystitis?

There are a few things you can do to prevent a recurring infection:

  • Drink plenty of water (around 2-3 litres per day) to dilute any bacteria that may be present

  • Pee regularly to eliminate any bacteria present before they multiply

  • Don’t hold back your pee – go when you need to

  • Take your time when peeing to empty your bladder completely

  • Avoid overwashing your vagina – this can cause an imbalance of your vaginal bacteria, so just wash gently with water on a regular basis 

  • Wipe from front to back after going to the toilet, this prevents digestive bacteria from being carried back to the urethra

  • Pee shortly after sex and avoid using spermicidal creams

When should I speak to a doctor?

Speak to a doctor if you have symptoms of cystitis or you suspect an infection, especially if you:

  • Have a fever

  • Have back or side pain

  • Have severe stomach pain

  • Have symptoms despite treatment

It’s then likely that your cystitis is more severe and requires further management.

What can Livi do?

Livi’s healthcare professionals can help to diagnose cystitis and prescribe an antibiotic treatment. If you need further support, they’ll help to refer you for appropriate treatment.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
undefined, Lead GP at Livi