Living with Cystitis

Cranberry Juice

Cystitis is an inflammation of the bladder, normally caused by a bacterial infection, which affects up to one in five women. It causes pain, stinging and an urgent need to urinate. For most people this is an inconvenience lasting a few days if treated correctly, however, a minority of sufferers experience recurrent attacks which can become debilitating and life changing.

I’ve suffered with Cystitis several times and at one point it developed into a kidney infection, this was excruciatingly painful, definitely on a par with childbirth! Fortunately, antibiotics sorted the infection out and I’ve not had any problems since. I hope this post will give you more information about how and why it occurs plus some tips for dealing with this nasty condition.



Cystitis in its most common form is a bacterial infection (Bacterial Cystitis, BC) of the urinary tract, bladder and sometimes kidneys, it affects mainly women as they have a shorter urethra than men. It is experienced by as many as one in five women at some point in their lives.

Another form of the condition, which is more serious and permanent, is called Interstitial Cystitis (IC), a recurrent problem thought to be caused by damage/irritation of the bladder wall lining (there has been far more research done in America than the UK on this aspect of Cystitis see for useful help and information)

Cystitis is usually caused by bacteria rising up from the bowels and passing through the urethra into the bladder but it can also be the result of unhygienic sexual intercourse.

If left untreated, the bacteria can spread to the kidneys and cause an infection which will need a course of antibiotics to clear.



Cystitis is most commonly recognised as:

  • Burning or stinging pain when urinating (dysuria)
  • A frequent need to pass small amounts of urine
  • A feeling of urgency to pass urine even when the bladder is empty
  • Cloudy/dark urine, which may have a strong smell
If left untreated, the infection can develop and travel up to the kidneys and ultimately become a kidney infection which is very painful and characterised by agonising back ache.


The largest group of sufferers is women between the ages of 18 and 35. Very few men suffer compared to women because the female urethra (the tube from the bladder to the outside) is much shorter, allowing bacteria to pass through more easily.

Some women are predisposed to this type of infection. For example, the nearness of the anus to the urethra varies from woman to woman. The smaller the gap, the less distance germs have to travel to infect the urethral opening.

Failing to pass urine regularly also allows germs a longer time to penetrate the urethra.

Constipation can play a part, too. There is a bacterial build-up in unpassed faeces and when it is eventually passed there may be a stronger bacterial presence in the anal opening.


How is Bacterial Cystitis Diagnosed?

If your symptoms are mild, treatment may be based on these symptoms alone and you can purchase over the counter treatments such as Canesten. If you feel it is more serious then a specimen of mid-stream urine (MSU) should be collected in a sterile container provided by your GP.  The GP will perform a simple urine test and may also send the sample to hospital for a full culture test. If repeated urinary tract infections occur, you may be referred to the hospital to see a consultant urologist for further investigation.



  • Over the counter treatments contain potassium or sodium citrate which effectively alkalises your urine. As a self help method you could try taking a small amount of sodium bicarbonate in water which has the same effect (one teaspoon -5ml- in a small glass).
  • For recurrent or more advanced infections, a course of antibiotics may be prescribed by your GP. If you still suffer following antibiotics, ask your GP whether a longer course of 6/12/24 months could be tried.
  • Some people swear by a hot water bottle placed against their abdomen or lower back to reduce pain and discomfort.
  • Reducing acidic foods and drinks in your diet can be very helpful and you may be surprised as to which common foods and drinks are acidic. One of the worst offenders is coffee (even decaffeinated) and also tea (but decaff tea seems to be better). Diet is even more important for IC sufferers and there is a very helpful pdf document on the IC website: ICN Food List.
  • A great alkaline diet to follow is the one recommended by Jane Scrivner in her book Detox Yourself. I have followed this diet myself and it really works. You can read about it in my post “Detox Yourself“. I have also produced a list of foods and drinks which are suitable for this diet, “Detox Food Lists“.
  • Increase your fluid intake (water and milk are best), avoid tea, coffee, fizzy drinks, alcohol and fruit juice.

Preventing Future Attacks:

  • Increase your fluid intake with water or milk.
  • Avoid alcohol, pure fruit juices, tea or coffee as they can irritate the bladder (pear or apple juice is the most tolerated of juice ie least acidic).
  • Cranberry juice may help as it can prevent some bacteria from growing. However, IC sufferers find cranberry exacerbates the condition.
  • Wear clothes made of natural materials such as cotton or linen. Do not wear thongs.
  • Always wipe from front to back when using the toilet.
  • Wash the anal area after a bowel movement.
  • Empty your bladder as soon as you feel the need.
  • Examine your diet – decrease your intake of junk foods and increase your intake of vegetables. Question whether your diet is overly acidic.
  • For women who have been through the menopause, oestrogen replacement treatment in the form of pessaries or topical cream may prove useful.
  • The use of spermicidal products can destroy lactobacilli (good bacteria). If necessary, revise your method of contraception.
  • Wash the genital area prior to sex and urinate within 15 minutes afterwards to help flush away any bacteria.

Long Term Solutions:

  • For Bacterial Cystitis, antibiotics offer the best long term treatment. It is important to diagnose which bacteria is responsible by urine test, in order to prescribe the most effective antibiotic available. It is worth discussing with your GP whether a 6, 12 or even 24 month course could help in stubborn cases. Most GPs are loathe to prescribe long term antibiotics due to the possibility of resistance developing but a low dose should not be a problem.
  • For IC (and stubborn BC) cases a radical overhaul of your diet will be required. Experiment with excluding known irritants in order to minimise symptoms. You may like to try a “detox” diet to give your body a rest and a chance to heal. Read my post “Detox Yourself” for more information.
  • Managing the condition on a day to day basis can be challenging, especially when faced with social situations involving acidic food and drink (and alcohol!). There is a great treatment called “Prelief” which is designed to be taken before eating/drinking to minimise acid. It’s available from Amazon. See the COB website for more information.

I hope that this gives you a better insight into this condition, please do post comments below with your own experiences and tell us which treatments/ self help etc have been of use to you.


My name is Caroline Sutton and I'm a wife and mother of 3 children, passionate about food, keeping me and my family healthy, gorgeous interiors and shopping! I have a degree in Biochemistry and Pharmacology and continue to be interested in the science behind diet and drugs. I also have a Diploma and City and Guilds in Interior Design and for the last 17 years have run a property company which develops, redevelops and manages rental properties: Sunlight Properties Ltd.

Posted in Adult Health, Health

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