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Cystitis is an infection of the bladder. Signs of cystitis include passing small amounts of urine frequently and a burning sensation on urination. Women are affected more often than men.

About cystitis 

Urine is produced by each of your two kidneys. It drains into the bladder through tubes called ureters. When you pass urine, your bladder contracts, squeezing urine out of your body through a tube called the urethra.

The location of the bladder

Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder due to an infection or irritation. Usually, it only affects the bladder and is known as a lower urinary tract infection (UTI). If the infection goes higher, to your ureters (the tubes from your kidneys to the bladder) or kidneys, this can be a more serious illness known as an upper urinary tract infection.

Around one in three women will have at least one bout of cystitis at some point before they are 24. Children and men can also get cystitis though it's not as common. Medical advice should be sought in these cases.

Symptoms of cystitis 

Symptoms of cystitis include:

  • a stinging or burning sensation when passing urine
  • the need to pass urine more often, even if you pass very little or no urine
  • cloudy or dark-coloured urine
  • blood in your urine
  • pain or tenderness in your lower back or lower abdomen (tummy)
  • feeling generally unwell.

Cystitis can be painful, particularly when passing or trying to pass urine, but mild cystitis usually clears up within four to nine days and symptoms should ease within two or three days (read on for advice about what you can do to treat cystitis). If you’re worried in any way and especially if you have severe pain and/or fever, see your GP as you may need treatment with antibiotics to clear up the infection.

The symptoms described earlier can also be due to a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as chlamydia. If you think you may have an STI, it’s important to visit your GP or a sexual health clinic.

Causes of cystitis 

Cystitis is often caused by bacteria that get into the urethra from surrounding skin and travel up towards your bladder, causing infection and irritation. Most infections are caused by bacteria that normally live harmlessly in your bowel called Escherichia coli (or E. coli for short).

Women get cystitis more than men partly because in women, the urethra is nearer the opening of the back passage (anus) where bacteria from your bowel can collect. This makes it easier for bacteria to get transferred from the surrounding skin into the urethra. Also, the urethra is much shorter in women than it is in men, so there is a shorter distance for the infection to travel into the bladder.

You're more likely to get cystitis if you:

  • are sexually active – the risk increases the more often you have sex
  • use spermicide-coated condoms or a diaphragm with spermicide as these can alter the protective acidity or pH of the vagina
  • have been through menopause – this can cause changes to the lining of your vagina and urethra, reducing elasticity and lubrication and an increase in pH, making you more likely to have a bacterial infection.
  • have a urinary catheter – this can introduce bacteria directly into your bladder.
  • have diabetes – especially in the case of uncontrolled diabetes as your urine may contain more sugar which feeds the bacteria and encourages them to grow.
  • have a condition that prevents you from emptying your bladder such as bladder or kidney stones, an enlarged prostate or if you're pregnant.
  • use irritants such as certain soaps; the chemical can irritate your urethra and/or bladder.

Diagnosis of cystitis 

If you're a woman and in good health, you may not need to see your GP, as cystitis often clears up on its own with some self-care (see below). However, see your GP if:

  • your symptoms don't improve after two to three days
  • you have blood in your urine
  • you’re pregnant or think you may be pregnant
  • you’re over 65
  • you have a high temperature, feel sick or are vomiting
  • you have pain in your lower back or severe abdominal pain
  • the cystitis keeps coming back
  • you have other problems with your urinary system such as kidney stones or difficulty emptying your bladder
  • you have diabetes.

Children and men who get cystitis should always see a doctor. Cystitis in men can be caused by an enlarged prostate, which needs to be checked. The signs of cystitis are much more difficult to spot in children – they may have a fever and feel unwell, for example. But if you suspect your child has cystitis, it's important to see the doctor to rule out any abnormalities of the urinary system to prevent kidney problems later on.

Your GP will ask about your symptoms and also for a sample of your urine. They may test your urine with a dipstick or send the sample to a laboratory for more detailed tests.

Treatment of cystitis 


You can often manage cystitis yourself by:

  • taking a non-prescription painkiller such as paracetamol
  • make your urine less acidic by drinking a glass of water with half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda dissolved in it. Products that contain sodium bicarbonate or potassium citrate have the same effect and are available from your pharmacist
  • make sure you drink plenty of fluids to help flush out the infection

always read the accompanying consumer medicines information leaflet, or talk to your pharmacist or GP if you have any questions.


Your GP may also prescribe a course of antibiotics to be taken as prescribed. If your symptoms don't clear up, contact your GP as some infections can be resistant to the antibiotics used.

If antibiotics don't work, it's also possible that you may have a type of cystitis called interstitial cystitis. This is a chronic (long-lasting) inflammation of the bladder wall that isn't caused by infection. Your GP will be able to give you more information and help you manage the condition.

Preventing cystitis 

There's some scientific evidence to show that drinking cranberry juice or taking capsules containing 200mg of cranberry extract can help preventing cystitis from coming back. However, it's not clear if cranberry extract works as a treatment for cystitis. Ask your GP or pharmacist for advice before taking cranberry capsules or drinks, particularly if you're taking the blood-thinning medicine warfarin because cranberry also has potential blood-thinning effects. The interaction of these blood-thinning substances can increase your risk of bleeding. Avoid cranberry juices that contain lots of sugar, as sugar can encourage bacteria to grow, and too much sugar in your diet is also linked to other health problems.

If you get cystitis three or more times a year, your GP may give you a course of antibiotics to keep at home so you can start taking them as soon as you know you're getting a bout of cystitis. Alternatively, if you get repeated episodes, you may need to take a low dose of antibiotics for six to 12 months. If you get cystitis after having sex, your GP may advise you to take a single dose of antibiotics immediately after you’ve had sex to prevent an infection from developing.

Spermicides can increase your risk of getting cystitis, so ask your GP or family planning adviser about alternative methods of contraception.

For women who have been through menopause, creams containing oestrogen can be applied to the vagina and may reduce the risk of cystitis.

Although there isn’t a great deal of scientific evidence to back these measures, some people find that the following may help to prevent cystitis:

  • passing urine after having sex
  • increasing your fluid intake
  • wearing loose clothing
  • wiping front to back, not back to front after going to the toilet
  • passing urine as soon as you feel the need to, instead of holding on.

Some people find that certain triggers, such as tea or coffee, can make cystitis worse. If you notice any such triggers, try to avoid them.

Further information 

National STI Prevention Program: Sexual Health Campaign

Find your local sexual health clinic

Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia


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Last published: 30 July 2011

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