What Is Cystitis? What Causes it and How Is it Treated?

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what is interstitial cystitisWhat is cystitis of the bladder? Cystitis is a type of bladder inflammation that affects the bladder wall. The urinary bladder is a muscular sac in the pelvis, which stores urine after fluids have been filtered by the kidneys. The bladder normally stores between 400 and 600 millilitres of urine.

Cystitis is a lower urinary tract infection (UTI) that is much more common in women. In fact, about 10% to 20% of women experience a UTI at least once a year. What about interstitial cystitis? It’s a chronic bladder infection that is also called painful bladder syndrome.

Bladder infections like cystitis and interstitial cystitis will lead to several trips to the bathroom—in some cases, the person will have to go 40 to 60 times a day.

What Causes Cystitis of the Bladder? How Do You Get Cystitis?

Now that you know what cystitis is, how do you get it? Most cases of cystitis and interstitial cystitis will occur when bacteria enters the body and infects the lining of the bladder. Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the bacteria mostly responsible for bladder infections. Besides bacterial infections, there are other causes of cystitis and bladder pain. The following are other causes of cystitis.

  • Sensitivity to chemicals: Some people may develop an allergic reaction in the bladder when exposed to certain chemicals in products, feminine hygiene sprays, or bubble baths.
  • Certain medications: There are several drugs thought to induce cystitis, such as chemotherapy drugs and frequent use of antibiotics. Radiation treatment can also cause bladder problems.
  • Other causes of cystitis: Cystitis may also be caused by an enlarged prostate, kidney stones, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, use of a diaphragm for birth control, bladder cancer, sexual intercourse, stress, poor diet, food allergies, and hormonal imbalances such as those experienced during menopause or pregnancy.

How to Recognize Cystitis

How do you know if you have cystitis or cystitis of the bladder ? The following are clear signs and symptoms of cystitis:

  • An increased and persistent urge to urinate
  • A burning pain from urination
  • Foul-smelling or dark-colored and cloudy urine
  • Waking up at night to urinate
  • Frequently passing small amounts of urine
  • Chronic pelvic discomfort
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Traces of blood in the urine
  • Weakness and a low-grade fever, especially among older women who also don’t show signs of other symptoms

How Cystitis Is Diagnosed

Although a diagnosis of cystitis or cystitis of the bladder is made according to a person’s signs and symptoms, your doctor may recommend certain tests for a more thorough diagnosis. For example, a urinalysis can help determine if there is pus, blood, or bacteria in your urine, and a microscopic examination may reveal high levels of E. coli and white blood cells. Also, an ultrasound or X-ray is sometimes used to discover other bladder inflammation causes like a structural abnormality or a tumor. Other times a cystoscopy is used, especially when you’ve experienced symptoms for a long period of time.

Interstitial cystitis, on the other hand, can be harder to diagnose due to symptoms overlapping with other conditions such as an overactive bladder, vulvodynia, chronic pelvic pain, a UTI, and endometriosis. As a result, interstitial cystitis is sometimes not accurately diagnosed until five years after first showing signs of symptoms.

Who Develops Cystitis?

As mentioned, women most frequently get cystitis of the bladder . Experts estimate that most women will get at least one cystitis episode during their life, and many will experience it more than once. Cystitis sends American women to the doctor’s office an estimated six to nine million times each year. It’s recommended for women to see the doctor when they get cystitis for the first time, or if they get cystitis three times or more in a year.

Cystitis is much less common in men; however, when they do get it, the condition can be more serious since the underlying cause may be an enlarged prostate, an obstruction, a prostate infection, or cancer. When male cystitis is left untreated, it can lead to damage, or kidney or prostate problems.

How Cystitis Is Treated Naturally

What is cystitis treatment? How can you treat cystitis of the bladder? Many times mild cystitis will resolve itself without treatment in a few days. If it lasts longer than four days, it’s best to consult with a doctor. A short course of antibiotics may be given; however, the following natural approaches to cystitis are considered best.

1. Cranberry
The use of cranberry for urinary conditions can be traced back to Native American tribes. Cranberry juice and cranberry powder extract are both thought to prevent E. coli and other bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall. Cranberry can prevent UTIs and treat acute cystitis.

2. Uva Ursi
For centuries, uva ursi has been a popular herbal remedy for treating bladder infections like cystitis. The active compound in uva ursi is arbutin. Some studies show that uva ursi can prevent frequent UTIs when combined with dandelion leaf and root.

3. Probiotics
If you are using antibiotics, probiotics are especially useful in preventing the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Antibiotics are known to kill all the bacteria in your system, which also includes the good stuff. In a 2009 systematic review of five studies, probiotics with Lactobacillus strains helped prevent UTIs.

4. Goldenseal
Goldenseal has a long history for treating infections and E. coli. It can boost the immune system, and it contains a potent alkaloid called berberine. Some studies support goldenseal in the treatment of urinary conditions.

5. Homeopathy
Cantharis is the most common homeopathic remedy used for cystitis, especially when you have a strong urge to urinate but very little comes out. Other remedies used for cystitis include equisetum, belladonna, mercurius corrosivus, nux vomica, Petroselinum, staphysagria, and sarsaparilla.

6. Antioxidants
Antioxidants like vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc have all been used for cystitis. The aforementioned antioxidants will boost the immune system, and vitamin C in particular will inhibit the growth of E. coli.

7. D-Mannose
D-mannose is a simple sugar found in fruits such as apples, blueberries, and cranberries, and it’s not broken down in the blood. It’s also highly concentrated in the bladder, where it prevents E. coli or other bacteria from bonding to the bladder wall.

8. Gotu Kola
Gotu kola extracts have been found to treat bladder ulcerations, while improving the integrity of the bladder lining.

9. Berberine-Containing Plants
As mentioned, berberine is useful in treating cystitis. Some studies have found that berberine can inhibit the bond of E. coli to epithelial cells. Besides goldenseal, other plants with berberine include Oregon grape, bayberry, tree turmeric, and coptis.

10. Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy and essential oils have also been proven to be effective against cystitis. For example, lavender, chamomile, and bergamot all have antiseptic properties to treat bladder infections. Other essential oils used for cystitis include tea tree oil, jasmine, geranium, and rose.

Other Natural Remedies

Other natural treatments for cystitis include Echinacea, horsetail, oil of oregano, magnesium, vitamin D3, fish oils, grape seed extract, pine bark extract, parsley water, horseradish, and celery seeds. Other therapies for cystitis also include acupuncture, yoga, and other mindfulness techniques.

What Increases the Risk of Cystitis?

A number of things may increase the risk of cystitis. For instance, women increase their risk by being sexually active and using certain types of birth control, such as diaphragms. Being pregnant or going through menopause can also increase the risk of bladder infections. Other risk factors to keep in mind include:

  • Urine flow interference: Interference in urine flow is common in men with an enlarged prostate or with bladder stones.
  • Long-term urinary catheter use: The long-term use of a catheter can lead to bacterial infections and bladder tissue damage. Catheters are often needed for older adults or people with chronic illnesses.
  • Serious conditions: A depressed immune system can increase the risk of bladder infections, especially when the person also has diabetes, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection, or are receiving cancer treatment.

Complications of Cystitis

Potential complications may arise if cystitis is left untreated, such as:

  • Kidney infection: It’s thought that 55% of bladder infections eventually involve the kidneys, and frequent infections will lead to kidney failure, chronic progressive kidney damage, and abscess formation. This is serious, since kidney infections may affect the kidneys permanently. Older adults and young children have the greatest risk of kidney damage since symptoms are often mistaken for something else.
  • Blood in the urine: Although blood in the urine is a symptom of cystitis, you will rarely see it with bacterial cystitis except with radiation or chemotherapy-induced cystitis. You may have blood in the urine that can only been seen with a microscope. That said, the blood will often clear up after treatment. If it doesn’t, your doctor will likely recommend a specialist to help discover the cause of the bladder problem.

How to Prevent Cystitis

There are also a number of preventative and self-care measures you can take to avoid cystitis, including:

  • Frequent urination: Always empty your bladder when you need to urinate. Delaying urination may lead to cystitis.
  • Drink plenty of water: In general, drinking lots of water helps detoxify the body. Hydration is especially useful in avoiding cystitis if you are undergoing radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
  • Empty bladder after sex: It’s a good idea to empty the bladder before and after sexual intercourse to help decrease your chance of cystitis. It’s also recommended that women drink a large glass of water before and after sex to help flush bacteria from the urinary system.
  • Wipe properly: After going to the bathroom, always wipe from front to back. It will reduce the chance of intestinal bacteria traveling to the urethra from the anus.
  • Wear proper underwear: If you are prone to cystitis, cotton underwear can help the genitals breathe.
  • Avoid certain products: It’s best to avoid the use of certain products on the genital area that can irritate the bladder and urethra, including deodorant sprays and feminine products such as scented tampons.
  • Take showers: If you often get bladder infections, taking a shower over a bath may help prevent cystitis.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Murray, M., M.D., et al, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (New York: Atria Paperback, 2012), 471–477.
Balch, J., et al., Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide for Treating Health Problems with Natural Remedies Including Diet, Nutrition, Supplements, and Other Holistic Methods (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004), 87–92.
Rakel, D., et al., Integrative Medicine: Third Edition (Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders, 2012), 187–192.
Nordqvist, C., “Cystitis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments,” Medical News Today web site, July 1, 2015; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/152997.php, last accessed March 14, 2016.
“Cystitis: Causes,” Mayo Clinic web site; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cystitis/basics/causes/con-20024076, last accessed March 14, 2016.
“Cystitis: Tests and Diagnosis,” Mayo Clinic web site; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cystitis/basics/tests-diagnosis/con-20024076, last accessed March 14, 2016.

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Jon Yaneff, CNP

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Jon Yaneff is a holistic nutritionist and health researcher with a background in journalism. After years of a hectic on-the-go, fast food-oriented lifestyle as a sports reporter, Jon knew his life needed a change. He began interviewing influential people in the health and wellness industry and incorporating beneficial health and wellness information into his own life. Jon’s passion for his health led him to the certified nutritional practitioner (CNP) program at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. He graduated with first... Read Full Bio »