Cystitis is the medical term for inflammation of the bladder. Inflammation is part of the complex biological response of body tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants, and is a protective response involving immune cells.

When inflammation occurs in any tissue, chemicals from the body’s white blood cells are released into the blood. This release of chemicals increases the blood flow to the area of injury or infection.

What causes cystitis?

While a urinary tract infection (UTI) can occur anywhere in the GU tract, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra, cystitis takes place in the bladder specifically. 

The urinary tract is where the body filters fluids. The kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra are all connected and work together in removing waste from your body. Kidneys filter waste from blood and regulate the concentrations of many substances. Tubes called ureters carry urine from kidneys to the bladder, where it’s stored until it exits your body through the urethra.

Because of this connected system, there are many factors that can cause the bladder to become inflamed. However, most often the inflammation is caused by a bacterial infection. 

Sometimes bladder infections can be painful and chronic. This could lead to serious health issues if not treated properly. Treatment for all types of cystitis vary according to what is causing the inflammation.

Other causes of cystitis

Certain chemicals have been linked to health risks including bladder cancer along with resulting cystitis. This may occur as a result of industrial exposure, air or water pollution, foods, and certain medicines or combinations of medications (even herbal).

Common medications including birth control pills and aspirin can cause inflammation of the bladder. Cystitis may sometimes accompany diseases such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, kidney stones, an enlarged prostate, and many types of injuries. Playing contact sports and receiving a blow to the bladder area may cause inflammation or worse conditions.

Certain medical treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy can causes cystitis. Long-term use of a catheter, diaphragm, or improper use of tampons can directly or indirectly cause inflammation.

Symptoms of cystitis
The symptoms of cystitis related to the bladder vary according to the main cause for the inflammation, but almost always include a strong, persistent, frequent urge to urinate. In addition many people report a burning sensation with the urine that leaves the body. 

When the inflammation in the bladder and infection becomes worse, some people may see blood in the urine or have cloudy or strong-smelling urine. At this more advanced stage, there is likely to be pain, discomfort, and possibly a fever. Your healthcare provider will take your temperature at your visit and if you show a low-grade fever along with reporting symptoms of urinary discomfort, they will likely test your urine for signs of infection.

Risk Factors: Cystitis and sexual activity
Some people may be hypersensitive to chemicals contained in certain products, such as bubble bath, bath salts, douches, feminine hygiene sprays, spermicidal jellies, and latex condoms. Certain products used for vaginal or anal pleasure (such as vibrators) may also cause bladder infections either from the materials used in making of the product themselves or in the improper cleansing of the product by the consumer before or after use. Both women and men may develop an allergic-type reaction within the body causing cystitis.

Sexual intercourse can result in harmful bacteria (your own or your partner’s bacteria) being pushed into the urethra. This happens so often for people having sex for the first time or after a period of not having sex that it has a name: honeymoon cystitis.

Honeymoon cystitis remains more common among young women in their twenties, although women of all ages have reported that they suffer from the problem. The risk of honeymoon cystitis increases if someone starts having sex again after not having done so for a long period of time. Condoms may help but are not a guarantee of protection against honeymoon cystitis, especially if sexual activity includes direct skin-to-skin stimulation before penetration.

Hormonal changes at any time of life may increase the risk of a bladder infection. Altered hormone levels in postmenopausal women are often associated with urinary tract infections, but men also experience hormone changes throughout life and can also be more at risk of cystitis with these changes and other life stressors.

Risk Factors: Cystitis and douching

This method of female hygiene has been shown to increase the chances of cystitis (inflammation) in the vagina as well as other parts of the body. The word ”douche” is French for ”wash.” It is a method to wash out the vagina with a mixture of water and vinegar. Douches that are sold in drugstores and supermarkets contain antiseptics and fragrances that are at best non-beneficial to a healthy vagina and at worst cause serious inflammation that may lead to disease.

Douching upsets the natural balance of beneficial bacteria in the vagina (called vaginal flora). These changes make the environment more favorable for the growth of harmful bacteria that cause infection and result in cystitis.

Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Research has found that women who douche may have a 73 percent higher risk of getting pelvic inflammatory disease.

Proper nutrition and drinking lots of water will do more to contribute to a healthy vagina and less cystitis than artificially cleansing with chemicals.

Risk Factors: Cystitis and children

Infants receive specific protection against many infections, including urinary tract infections and resulting cystitis, from bacteria through immunoglobulins in the mother’s breast milk. Infants that are not breastfed have a higher rate of getting infections because they lack this immune-system booster.

In young children with cystitis related to the bladder, there is likely to be problems with toilet training because the cystitis makes the need to urinate harder to recognize and elimination is also a challenge. There may be new episodes of accidental wetting of clothes or bedding. 

Young children are at greater risk of kidney damage from bladder infections because symptoms are often overlooked or mistaken for other conditions. If there is no pain, the child may not even notice that something is wrong. Usually the problem manifests with a fever or with urine that smells bad, which is a good indication that something is going wrong in the child’s body.

Girls and women tend to be more susceptible to certain infections because the female genital area can spread harmful bacteria that can cause cystitis. Urinary tract infections typically occur when bacteria outside the body enter the urinary tract through the urethra and begin to multiply and spread to the bladder.

Parents who notice cloudy urine plus a low-grade fever in their child should take their child to a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis of the cause.

Common symptoms that show cystitis may be leading to a kidney infection include back or side pain, fever and nausea, or vomiting.

Risk Factors: Cystitis and other diseases

Most cases of cystitis don’t lead to serious health complications, but it is certainly possible and worth mentioning in this article. If any infection is severe and left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body and develop into something more serious. For example, an untreated bladder infection can lead to kidney infection, and chronic kidney infections may permanently damage kidney tissue and/or kidney function.

Diagnosis and treatment of cystitis

Your healthcare provider will take into account your medical history and any symptoms you report that relate to cystitis. Your physician will look for symptoms that are consistent with excessive exposure to anything that could contribute to infection or irritation that may result in cystitis. This could be anything from drinking too much soda or coffee, to exposure to toxic chemicals on the job, to having unprotected sex with multiple partners.

Certain lab tests are often used to measure the amount of potentially harmful chemicals in the body. These tests may include a blood or urine analysis that will directly relate to your risk of developing cystitis. You may have blood cells, WBC, or casts in your urine that can suggest an infection. If you are diagnosed with cystitis your health care provider will order you an antibiotic and likely a medication for pain.

If these elements remain in your urine after treatment, your doctor may recommend that you have more tests or visit a medical specialist to determine the cause. Visible blood in the urine is rare but this symptom is more common with chemotherapy or radiation treatment patients.

Preventing cystitis

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drinking enough water is critical for the entire human body to function properly. This is especially important for the bladder, kidneys, and all tissues related to the elimination system. People who drink a lot of clean water every day tend to have significantly lower rates of cystitis. They also tend to be healthier in general, because the body has enough clean water to wash out impurities.

Cranberry juice and other juices high in Vitamin C can help reduce the risk of recurrent bladder infections for some people, but if other lifestyle habits are unhealthy, the benefits will be lost.

While you are drinking all that clean water, make sure to visit the restroom frequently. If you feel the urge to urinate, don’t delay using the toilet if possible. The idea here is not to allow any impurities that your body has cleansed from your system to remain in the bladder for longer than needed. If you are at work, and leaving the work area is not convenient, you should discuss this with your boss. You need to make arrangements for being able to urinate more often until your cystitis is gone.

Planning your daily menu with healthy, non-processed foods that nurture your body’s beneficial microorganisms can greatly contribute to your health and minimize incidents of cystitis. Bacteria are always present throughout the human body, inside and outside, and are usually part of a relationship, a system working together for the benefit of the body. Specifically, beneficial bacteria in our intestines help digest food, destroy disease-causing microorganisms, produce vitamins, and distribute nutrients.

Avoid white sugar. Consuming a diet high in white sugar, white flour or high-fructose corn syrup sets the stage for inflammation throughout the body. If you have chronic cystitis, make sure to eliminate these products and any products containing them from your diet while you are healing. Inflammation can occur in response to many triggers, and some of these you can’t do much to change. You have much more control over the foods and beverages you choose to eat and drink. To stay as healthy as possible, keep inflammation (cystitis) down by minimizing your consumption of any foods, beverages, or seasonings that are known causes.

Proper hygiene for both men and women is recommended for staying healthy and minimizing the risk of cystitis. Showering in clean water (without using harsh chemicals) and careful cleansing after a bowel movement prevents non-beneficial bacteria from spreading into the urethra.

Take showers rather than tub baths. If you’re susceptible to infections, showering rather than bathing may help prevent them. Gently wash the skin around the vagina, penis, and anus. Don’t wash too vigorously. The delicate skin around these areas can become irritated and that can contribute to cystitis.

Empty your bladder as soon as possible after intercourse. Drink a full glass of water to help flush out any harmful bacteria.

Avoid using harsh deodorant sprays or feminine products in the genital area. These products can irritate the urethra and bladder. Quit smoking! Chronic and long-term abuse of nicotine and alcohol can contribute to cystitis.

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