What can cause cystitis?

Dr Kathryn Basford

Medically reviewed by

Dr Kathryn Basford

Last reviewed: 18 Feb 2022

Cystitis is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI). Cystitis is usually caused by an infection, which leads to inflammation in the bladder. You might notice symptoms like pain when peeing, having to pee more often or finding it hard to pee.


Cystitis will usually get better on its own after a day or two but if it isn’t getting better or you are feeling worse, you might need antibiotics from a doctor.

Let’s have a look at the causes of cystitis and what you can do to prevent and treat it.

What is cystitis?

Cystitis is caused by inflammation, so you might feel symptoms such as:

  • pain or discomfort when you pee
  • needing to pee more often
  • urgency to pee
  • urine that is dark, cloudy or smelly
  • pain in the tummy
  • generally feeling unwell

You might find that your cystitis goes away on its own after a few days. However, if your cystitis is not getting better after 3 or 4 days, or if you’re pregnant, you need to speak to a doctor.

You should also speak to a doctor urgently if you:

  • have a high temperature
  • are vomiting
  • have back pain
  • are shivering or shaking

These can be signs of a more serious infection of the kidneys.

If you are unsure whether you have cystitis, also contact a healthcare professional.

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How do you get cystitis?

You get cystitis when bacteria from the bowel or skin enter the urethra and start travelling up to your bladder. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from your bladder to outside your body. Normally these bacteria in the bowel, or on your skin, do not cause problems. But once bacteria get into your bladder, they can multiply and cause pain when you pee.

You can get cystitis due to rubbing or irritation which happens when:

  • having sex
  • using a female diaphragm for contraception
  • wiping your bottom back to front after the toilet
  • having a catheter in the bladder
  • use of certain drugs (ketamine)

Sometimes you are more likely to get cystitis if you have certain medical conditions, like diabetes. Taking medication like immunosuppressants can also increase your chances of getting cystitis.

Women, in particular, are at greater risk of getting cystitis because their back passage is closer to the hole you pee from (urethra) compared to men.

After menopause, women have less oestrogen in their body, this makes the skin around the vagina drier and weaker, which makes it easier to get cystitis.

If you’re pregnant, it becomes difficult to empty your bladder fully as the pregnancy progresses and this can lead to you getting cystitis.

Why do I keep getting cystitis?

You might keep getting cystitis due to many factors, such as:

  • a history of bladder or kidney problems. For example, kidney stones or bladder problems that mean urine stays in the bladder longer than it should.
  • having sex and the use of diaphragms as contraception cn irritate the area around the urethra or allow bacteria to enter.
  • your hormones may be involved, for example during the menopause oestrogen levels decrease making skin thinner, drier and more likely to be damaged.

If you keep getting cystitis, you may need to see a doctor to find out what's causing it. Contact a doctor who can arrange tests if you think you have cystitis and to give you further advice.

Tips for preventing cystitis

Here are some tips for preventing cystitis:

  • going to the toilet as soon as you feel the urge to pee and fully emptying your bladder each time
  • staying hydrated by drinking enough water each day
  • wiping your bottom front to back when you go to the toilet
  • peeing as soon as possible after sex
  • using alternatives to a female diaphragm, such as male condoms, for contraception

How to relieve cystitis symptoms

To help relieve cystitis symptoms you can:

  • drink plenty of water
  • avoid having sex until you feel better and you are sure the cystitis infection has fully cleared

You can also consider medication to help relieve cystitis symptoms such as:

  • over the counter painkillers (paracetamol) to reduce fever and discomfort
  • antibiotics, including nitrofurantoin (also known as MacroBID), to clear the bacteria causing cystitis
  • potassium citrate or sodium citrate powder, which help reduce pain, lower the acidity of the urine and help clear bacteria

A doctor will be able to advise the best course of treatment for you to relieve your cystitis symptoms. Antibiotics usually work fast and you should notice an improvement in your cystitis symptoms in 1 or 2 days.

Medically reviewed by:
Dr Kathryn Basford

Dr Kathryn Basford is a qualified GP who works as a GP in London, as well as with ZAVA. She graduated from the University of Manchester and completed her GP training through Whipps Cross Hospital in London.

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Article created: 12 Nov 2021

Last reviewed: 18 Feb 2022

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