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What is cystitis?

Cystitis is an infection and inflammation of the bladder. It is most commonly caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI) and occurs when bacteria travel up the urethra (the tube you pee from) and enter the bladder.

Cystitis is very common, especially in women, and most women experience cystitis at least once in their lives. Some women get frequent bouts of cystitis and may need long-term preventative treatment. 

Though unpleasant, cystitis isn’t usually serious, but if left untreated the infection can spread to your kidneys and cause long-term damage. 

Symptoms of cystitis may include:

  • a burning, or stinging sensation when you pee
  • peeing more often than usual 
  • needing to pee urgently
  • needing to pee straight after emptying your bladder
  • dark-coloured or cloudy pee that has a strong smell
  • pain low down in your tummy
  • back pain
  • a low fever
  • blood in your pee
  • pain during sex

How do you get cystitis?

You can get cystitis when bacteria from the skin or bowel enter the urinary tract via the urethra. Bacteria such as E Coli normally live harmlessly in the bowel, but if they get into the urinary tract they multiply and cause infection. 

Cystitis is more common in women because their anus (back passage) is closer to their urethra making it easier for bacteria to spread. 

Bacteria can be spread by: 

  • having sex
  • wiping your bottom after using the toilet (particularly if you wipe from back to front) 
  • using tampons
  • having a urinary catheter (a tube that drains urine from your body) inserted 
  • using a contraceptive diaphragm, or spermicide with contraception


Cystitis is more common in people who: 

  • are pregnant
  • have been through the menopause
  • have a medical condition like diabetes, kidney stones, an enlarged prostate, or a weakened immune system

Cystitis isn’t contagious, meaning it can’t be passed from one person to another.

How to get rid of cystitis

Sometimes you can treat mild symptoms of cystitis at home and the condition clears up on its own in a few days. 

Some things you can do to ease symptoms of cystitis at home include: 

  • drinking plenty of water
  • taking over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol
  • not having sex until your symptoms have cleared up
  • if you have pain in your lower tummy, a hot water bottle can help
  • avoiding alcohol, fruit juice, or coffee as these can further irritate your bladder
  • cranberry juice and cystitis sachets may help to prevent cystitis, but there is no evidence that they work if you already have the infection

When to see a GP

You should make an appointment with a doctor if:

  • your symptoms are severe
  • you have had symptoms for more than 3 days
  • you still have symptoms after taking antibiotics
  • you get cystitis frequently
  • you are a man
  • you are pregnant
  • your child has symptoms of cystitis —symptoms in children may include fever, loss of appetite, irritability, weakness, being sick, and wetting themselves


Sometimes cystitis can cause a kidney infection which can be very serious. Call your doctor or 111 immediately if you: 

  • have a fever
  • are hot, shaky, or shivery
  • have severe pain in your lower tummy
  • have back pain
  • are confused or drowsy
  • feel sick or are vomiting (being sick)
  • have blood in your pee
  • have stopped peeing, or are peeing a lot less than usual

Is there a test for cystitis?

There is a urine test for cystitis, but it isn’t always necessary. Cystitis can normally be diagnosed based on your symptoms.

How is cystitis treated?

Cystitis is normally treated with a 3-day course of antibiotics. If your symptoms are mild, your GP may give you a prescription for antibiotics but tell you to wait 48 hours before taking them. This is to see if your symptoms improve on their own.

What if my cystitis keeps coming back?

If you keep getting cystitis, you may need a long-term treatment such as:

  • a single dose antibiotic to take within 2 hours of having sex (if sex triggers your cystitis)
  • a low-dose antibiotic that you take for 6 months
  • a vaginal oestrogen cream if you have gone through the menopause


If your cystitis doesn’t get better after taking antibiotics, or if you have a negative cystitis test despite having symptoms, you may have a different type of bladder infection. Chronic (long-term) bladder infections can increase your risk of bladder cancer if you are over 60, so speak to your GP about further investigations and treatments. 

Get help from an online doctor

An online doctor can diagnose and treat cystitis by assessing your symptoms, advising on self-care tips, and recommending or prescribing any necessary treatment. 

To arrange an online consultation with one of our NHS-trained GPs, simply click the link and choose an appointment at a time that is convenient for you. Your appointment will be held via video link from your phone wherever you are. 

During your consultation, the doctor will ask you some questions about your general health, symptoms, and any medications you are taking. They can then make a diagnosis based on your symptoms and give advice and recommendations for further tests or treatment. If needed, the doctor will prescribe a suitable medication which you can collect from a pharmacy of your choice. 

Get help from a pharmacist

A pharmacist can help with cystitis by giving you advice on how to manage your symptoms, recommending over-the-counter medications like painkillers, and telling you when it is advisable to see a GP. Some pharmacists can give antibiotics for cystitis. 


Cystitis is a troublesome, but treatable condition that is particularly common in women. If you have symptoms of cystitis, or experience frequent bouts of cystitis and would like to talk to a doctor, make an appointment today.


NHS: Cystitis February 11th 2022 (Accessed October 29th 2022) 

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence:  Urinary tract infection (lower) – women September 2022 (Accessed October 29th 2022) 

NHS Inform: Cystitis November 13th 2020 (Accessed October 29th 2022) 

PubMed: Acute Cystitis  January 2022 (Accessed October 29th 2022)

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