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Cystitis in women

What is cystitis?

Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder. There are two main types. The only sure way to tell the difference is by a urine test.

Bacterial cystitis is caused by bacteria (germs). These bacteria, mainly Escherichia coli (E. coli for short), normally live in and around the anus (back passage). In men, the urethra goes along the length of the penis and is about 24–30 cm long but, in women, it is only about 6 cm long. So in women, bacteria on the skin can easily get into the bladder by using the short urethra as a ladder. This probably explains why cystitis is much more common in women than in men. Some women find that bacterial cystitis is related to boisterous sex, which can bruise the urethra and may squeeze bacteria up into the bladder. For more information see our section on how to prevent further attacks of cystitis.
 
Painful bladder syndrome (also called, interstitial cystitis, non-bacterial cystitis, urgency and frequency syndrome) is inflammation of the bladder without any bacteria being present. Most sufferers (90%) are women. It can occur at any age, but is most common in women in their early 40s. It is a bit of a mystery, and no one really knows what causes it.
  • One theory is that a substance called glycosaminoglycan is deficient in the bladder. This substance is part of the slimy layer that covers and protects the lining of the bladder.
  • Another theory is that it is a type of allergy, because cells common in allergy (mast cells) are present in the bladder wall in interstitial cystitis.

Symptoms of cystitis

The symptoms of cystitis are:
  • a burning, stinging or aching pain when you pass urine
  • a need to pass water very frequently, often only a small amount each time
  • bloody or cloudy urine (severe cystitis).
Bacterial cystitis. With bacterial cystitis, you usually experience only the burning pain and frequent urination. However, it is possible for the infection to travels upwards to the kidney. Fortunately, this is unusual. Infection in the kidney needs proper medical treatment, so see your doctor straight away if you also have:
  • blood (or a smoky appearance) in the urine
  • backache or stomach ache
  • fever and weakness.
Painful bladder syndrome. With painful bladder syndrome (interstitial cystitis) the symptoms are diverse. You have to pass urine frequently (including at night), and maybe urgently, and passing the urine may be uncomfortable. You may notice discomfort in the lower abdomen when the bladder is filling (pelvic pain), which is relieved by passing small amounts of urine. Sex may be painful. Often, symptoms are worse in the week before a period.

What else could I have?

Not all urine problems are cystitis. For example:

  • if you have soreness or itching around the opening of the urethra (pee hole) you might have a herpes infection, thrush or a chlamydia infection
  • if your only problem is having to pass urine frequently, you might have diabetes (especially if you are thirsty all the time), so see your doctor
  • if your main problem is having to rush to the toilet, you may have a continence problem.

Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Friday, February 1st 2013

 


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Comments on this article

Posted by anna on 12/08/2014 at 03:12

It stings when I pee and is sometimes hard to get all my pee out and air is coming out of my pee hole. I have been hospitalized with my kidneys before the tube that carries the pee out was swollen and my urine was backed up and I I ended up with sephis an almost went into kidney failure. The drs said it was caused by a kidney stone but I never saw a kidney stone but did see blood come out one day before I was admitted into critical care. I don't know if it could be related but I'm having awful knee pain and it hurts when I bend my fingers. I don't know what's going on with me

Posted by Optional on 16/06/2014 at 06:40

I have had what I think is a water infection for about a month now and it isnt going away I have all the symptoms but the opening to my vagina is so sore and itchy and just hurting all the time but Im to scared to go to the doctors

Posted by SierraMH on 14/06/2014 at 05:38

Me and my girlfriend had sex and the next day when I went to pee i felt pain. I only feel the pain when it starts to get to the end and last drop of my pee, WHATS WRONG?! I'm just nervous because this has never happened before. My vaginia isn't stinging but it's like hot , kinda like the after affect of eating hot Cheetos. Can someone please help it's the 2nd day this has happened.

Posted by mel milano on 10/06/2014 at 12:00

One day after school i felt that i really needed to pee , so when i did only a few drops came out but i still felt that i still needed to pee , then after 2-4 minutes i needed to pee again but when i did it was only a few drops and then a sharp pain started it felt like i was holding my pee for years but then it stops after 10 seconds and there was abit of blood(i guess) . is there any suggestions to what this could be ? pls help

Posted by Hannah on 03/06/2014 at 06:27

At the end of when I'm peeing it feels weird like I have I little bit of sting pain but Its not bad what is it and how can I get rid of it ?

Posted by Leigh on 30/05/2014 at 04:48

For many years now I've noticed that during my period my urethra seems irritated. I get a strong urge to pee even when my bladder isn't holding much at all; and my bladder doesn't always empty completely. I will pee a few drops at a time for several minutes after I pee and I never quite feel like I'm done. It isn't painful, and it's not a burning sensation. I don't know how to describe it other than irratating. Any time I've mentioned it to my doctor, they test me for a urinary or bladder infection and it comes back negative and that is the end of it. The symptoms persist though. They happen every time I'm on my period, and rarely other times. It's pretty much always been that way for me. Has anyone else had this problem, or have any ideas what it could be?

Posted by www.embarrassingproblems.com - Editor's Choice on 29/05/2014 at 01:28

Thank you Janie on 25/05/14 for sharing your treatment tips. For further suggestions, please see our page on 'What you can do': www.embarrassingproblems.com/problem/cystitis-women/cystitis-women-actions

Posted by Janie on 25/05/2014 at 02:53, United Kingdom

I have suffered from cystitis from my early twenties. It usually starts with cramps in my stomach which get worse over a couple of days resulting in me doubled up with pain and unable to straighten up and increased urination. Usually I seem to get this condition in cold weather or when I have used soap in my lower regions in the bath - which probably send germs into my Urethra. Now I have found an alternative remedy for this condition; first don't wash with soap in that area, drink at least two to three litres of water a day and - TEA TREE OIL! If ever you suspect the slightest pain starting in that region, put some Tea Tree Oil on some cottom wool and dab on the (wee wee hole) - Urethra area. So now instead of going to the doctor for antibiotics every time a pain starts - I use Tea Tree Oil and litres of water. Try this cure!

Posted by Optional on 03/05/2014 at 01:36, United States

It hurts when I pee sometimes and it itches on the inside of my vulva when I move, it's not bad itching. When my pee touch my vulva skin it hurt a lil but as I pee it doesn't. When I pee a lil bit it hurts bad . I took a hiv and std test just gotta take a Pap smear. What could this be? :(

Posted by Optional on 12/02/2014 at 12:14, United States

For the past few days iv noticed some irritation near my pee hole (sorry don't know what's it's called) and now it's getting worse and itchy. I was getting nervous and checked it out. There is a small bump and it's whitish and regular skin color ish. I'm getting really scared because I haven't had sex or done anything in my life. No masterbation nothing. And I don't want to tell my mom because it's embarrsing please help:(

Posted by Optional on 28/10/2013 at 07:02, United States

So I haven't had sex with my boyfriend since October. 11 it was also our first sexual in counter with one another, we have had sex with others this was just out first time since we started dating. How ever yesterday (sat. Oct. 26, 2013) I got what felt like the beginnings of a urinary track infection I went and bought cranberry juice and was drinking it all yesterday and today, but not so much today. And suddenly it hit. But I don't know the cause. I don't masterbate or touch my self and haven't had sex. Wat other possible things could cause it? I did have a rash a few days before from wearing some shorts.

Posted by Optional on 14/09/2013 at 02:22, United States

When I urine it's a pressure coming from my pee hole and pushes out every drop of urine as I was taking a bath it did it again but a lil blood came I have sex with my boyfriend but we have not for a couple of weeks. But I did Masturbate yesterday morning and maybe an hour after that the pressure started happening like I'm about to have an orgasm. It tickles really bad if I touch it which makes me use the bathroom I don't know what's wrong ?

Posted by Optional on 22/05/2013 at 03:14, United Kingdom

I have cystitis and every time I pass urine my hands burn fiercely. Cannot find out why.

Posted by Optional on 17/04/2013 at 08:44, United Kingdom

water infections all time antibiotics no good

Posted by help:( on 29/03/2013 at 07:03, United Kingdom

I have white stuff round my pee hole and it itches and quite sore, it sometimes hurts when i pee, i last had sex 3 weeks ago, im not sure if its thrush or not?

Posted by Optional on 29/03/2013 at 12:23, United Kingdom

I have a burning/ stinging pain which is usually onset when needing to urinate and at times during or after ntercourse. This pain can often persist long after urinating/sex. The pain is around the entrance to the vagina. Previously when I did not know how to combat the problem the pain would become so bad and I would start to get very hot and irritable. Previously applying pressure, like sitting on the edge of a chair or the side of the bath helped, although at times i couldnt sit at all. Now I've realised that taking iboprufen helps. I've been given antibiotics, tested for stds and thrush, several times, but still to no avail. This has been going on for many months on and off. I also tried non perfume soaps and no improvement. Can anyone shed any light?

Posted by Anxious and Scared! on 02/03/2013 at 03:53, Australia

I used to think that I had some sort of STI but when i went to a clinic they said i just had thrush, so I got a 3 day cure and everything seemed fine from then, apart from going to the bathroom. for the last year or two it has been painful to pass urine majority of the time i go. If I have been drinking lots of water all day it doesn't usually. Just recently my urine hole has been really itchy. Please help I'm terrified and don't want to tell my mum incase it ends up being an STI. Because I have had sex before.

Posted by EBONY on 17/10/2012 at 05:32, United States

OK, I HAVE A PROBLEM; FOR SOME REASON MY PEE HOLE KEEPS HAVING THIS SLIGHT ITCH. ITS NOT A BURNING, SERIOUSLY, ITCHY ITCH BUT ITS VERY ANNOYING AND I DONT KNOW WHATS WRONG. I HAVENT HAD SEX IN 15 MONTHS, I DONT MASTERBATE WITH TOYS, I BATHE EVERY DAY, I WIPE FROM FRONT TO BACK, I DRINK LOTS OF WATER, WEAR COTTON PANTIES, AND EVERYTHING ELSE. NOW I DO WORK OUT BUT OTHER THAN THAT, THATS IT. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE THE PROBLEM?

Posted by Amanda on 15/10/2012 at 07:47, United Kingdom

after my boyfriend was fingering me the other day i noticed a few spots of blood on my underwear is this cycstitis or does it mean tht he was a little too rough fingering me.also i do have to keep going toilet quite often and i get a burning sensation what does this mean.ive done a water sample for doctor but heard nothing back since.

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Fascinating facts

Every year, 1–3 women out of 10 have an attack of cystitis

At any time, about 1 in 20 healthy women has bacteria in her bladder, without any symptoms. Only 10% of these progress to cystitis symptoms

In the USA, over 11 million women each year receive antibiotics for cystitis, costing over $1.6 billion (£1100 million)

In the UK, doctors write 5.5 million prescriptions for cystitis each year

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