Cystitis (also known as a urinary tract infection or UTI) is an inflammation of the bladder, usually caused by a bacterial infection. It’s very common, especially in women and people who have vaginas, and unlikely to be serious. But you can get it repeatedly and it can be very painful.

Most of the time it will go away on its own, but may sometimes need to be treated with antibiotics.

What causes it?

Bladder infections like cystitis happen when bacteria get into the bladder. Once in there, the bacteria can multiply and start irritating the lining of the bladder. This leads to the symptoms of cystitis.

Bladder infections can be caused by:

  • not emptying your bladder properly when you pee

  • damage or irritation around the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder, which could be caused by sex

  • bacteria being transferred from the anus to the urethra, this can happen during sex, when wiping after going to the toilet, or putting in a tampon

  • a urinary catheter (a tube in your bladder used to drain urine)

  • using spermicide with contraception

  • conditions that block the urinary tract, like kidney stones

  • being pregnant

  • having been through the menopause

  • having diabetes

  • having a weakened immune system

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of cystitis can also be caused by other conditions, so it's important to contact a sexual health clinic or your GP the first time you have any of these symptoms.

  • a need to pee urgently and often, but only passing a small amount

  • pain or stinging when you pee

  • pain in the bladder

  • urine that's dark, cloudy or strong smelling

  • traces of blood in your urine

  • pain low in your belly (directly above the pubic bone), in the lower back or in your abdomen

  • feeling unwell, weak or feverish

Long-term effects

Most people will not experience any long-term effects. But some people will get recurring cystitis infections.

Without treatment, cystitis can spread to the kidneys and cause a kidney infection, called pyelonephritis. This can be treated with antibiotics. If you’re getting recurring urinary tract infections, speak to your GP.

Testing and treatment

Mild cystitis usually clears up within a few days if you drink plenty of water, avoid caffeinated or sugary drinks and alcohol, and avoid having sex until your symptoms have cleared up. You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to manage the pain. Or you can get treatment from a pharmacy.

Some people take cranberry drinks or products to prevent cystitis – but there’s no evidence that this helps ease the symptoms of cystitis or treat it if the infection has already started.

If you visit a doctor or sexual health clinic about your symptoms, they might ask for a urine sample so they can test for cystitis. They might prescribe you antibiotics to treat the infection.

You should speak to your GP or a sexual health clinic if:

  • you have cystitis symptoms and you have a penis, as it could be a sign of a more serious condition

  • your symptoms haven’t gone away after 3 days

  • you’re in a lot of pain

  • you get cystitis symptoms frequently

You should call NHS 111 or make an urgent GP appointment if:

  • there's blood in your pee

  • you have a high temperature (fever) of 38°C or you feel hot and shivery

  • you have a very low temperature and feel cold

  • you develop pain around your back or lower tummy

  • you haven’t been able to pee all day

  • you feel drowsy or confused

  • you feel sick or you are sick

These could be signs of a kidney infection, which is more serious than cystitis.

How do I avoid cystitis?

There are many ways to reduce the chances of infection:

  • pee as soon as you can after sex

  • always wipe from front to back when you go to the toilet

  • don't use perfumed bubble bath, soap, or talcum powder around your genitals

  • drink plenty of water

  • use water to wash around your vagina before and after sex

Do you need help with something else?