What Is Cystitis?

When you see a medical condition that ends in “-itis,” you know that some part of your body is inflamed. With cystitis, it’s your bladder. And it lets you know about it with constant trips to the bathroom that often hurt and never quite give you relief.

Cystitis is the most common type of urinary tract infection (UTI). When you have one, bacteria in your bladder cause it to swell and get irritated, which leads to symptoms like the urge to pee way more often than normal.

Women tend to get cystitis much more than men do. Typically, it’s more annoying than it is serious, and it’s treated with antibiotics. But bacteria can travel from the bladder to the kidneys and cause more severe problems, so it’s important to treat it right away.


Usually, bacteria such as E. coli are to blame. They normally live on your skin and in your intestines, and they’re not a problem. But if they get into the urethra, which is the tube that carries pee out of your body, bacteria can end up in your bladder and cause issues.

It’s not as common, but you can also get cystitis from:

  • Chemicals in personal care products, such as bubble baths, soaps, and spermicides
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Damage from bladder surgery or a catheter -- a tube that helps empty pee from your bladder
  • Radiation to treat cancer around your pelvis

Some people have a condition called interstitial cystitis, where the bladder is constantly swollen. Doctors aren’t sure what causes it, and it’s much harder to treat than regular cystitis.


What Are the Symptoms?

Here are some things you might notice:

  • It burns, stings, or hurts when you pee.
  • The urge to pee is constant.
  • You feel sick (achy and tired, with a low fever).
  • You need to pee often, but only small amounts come out.
  • There’s pain or pressure in your lower belly.
  • Your pee is dark, cloudy, or has a strong smell.

In young children, wetting themselves during the day -- if they normally don’t -- can also be a sign. Bed-wetting at night isn’t usually related to cystitis.

Call your doctor if you have:

Get help right away if you have these signs of a kidney infection:

  • High fever
  • Pain in your side or back
  • Shaking and chills
  • Throwing up
  • Upset stomach


Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. You may then get:

  • Urine analysis to check for bacteria, blood, or pus in your pee
  • Urine culture to find out which type bacteria you have

Often, the cause is a bladder infection and that’s all the testing you need. But if you belong to one of these groups, you may get more advanced tests to find the cause of cystitis:

  • Children
  • Men (Since they tend not to get cystitis, it could be a sign of something else.)
  • People who have kidney damage
  • Women who get three or more bladder infections in a year

Your doctor may use:

  • Cystoscopy . Your doctor inserts a cystoscope – a thin tube with a camera -- into your urethra to look for problems or to get a tissue sample for more testing (biopsy).
  • Imaging. An ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI can show tumors, kidney stones, and other issues.
  • Intravenous urogram (IVU). It’s an X-ray that uses contrast dye to take images of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder.
  • Voiding cystourethrography. Your doctor puts a dye into your bladder to see if any urine flows backward from the bladder toward the kidneys.
  • Retrograde urethrography. This test uses contrast dye to find problems in the urethra.


How Is Cystitis Treated?

What you need will depend on the cause:

Bacteria. Your doctor will likely give you antibiotics. You usually start to feel better in a day or so, but be sure take all the medicine as directed. How long you need to take them depends on your overall health, how often you get infections, and the type of bacteria.

If you’re a women past menopause, your doctor may also suggest a vaginal cream that has estrogen in it.

Interstitial Cystitis. This one’s harder to treat since doctors don’t know the cause, but these steps often provide relief:

  • Avoid spicy foods and foods high in potassium.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • Work with your doctor on “bladder training,” meaning you change your peeing habits so you don’t have to go as often.
  • Take medicine that relaxes your bladder and eases some symptoms.
  • Your doctor may use mild electrical pulses to stimulate your nerves. This can lower your pain and help you not have to pee as often.

Other Types of Cystitis: If you have cystitis triggered by soaps, bubble baths, and the like, it’s best to avoid those products. If you’re getting chemo or radiation, your doctor can give you pain medicine and discuss how to take in more fluids to flush out your bladder.


There’s no sure way to prevent cystitis, but some doctors suggest that you:

  • Avoid bubble bath, soaps, and powders that have perfumes in them. And don’t use deodorants or sprays on your vagina.
  • Don’t hold it in. Pee when you feel the urge.
  • Drink plenty of liquids.
  • Pee after having sex.
  • Wipe your bottom front to back after you go to the bathroom.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on February 10, 2019



National Health Service: “Cystitis.”

Mayo Clinic: “Cystitis,” “Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).”

Victoria State Government: “Cystitis.”

KidsHealth: “Urinary Tract Infections.”

Merck Manual: “Bladder Infection (Cystitis),” “Interstitial Cystitis.”

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