Cystitis, also known as a urinary tract infection (UTI), is quite common in women and young girls and frankly, can be described as like ‘weeing razor blades’. Caused by a bacterial infection, cystitis affects women most often because the journey from the outside world where bacteria lurk (near the anus), to the bladder, is much shorter than it is in men. The infection inflames the lining of the bladder and urethra (the tube that takes urine from the bladder to the outside world). It is therefore very important to treat cystitis before any infection travels to the kidney via the ureters (the pair of tubes that take urine from the kidneys down to the bladder). A kidney infection is a much more serious affair. If you begin to experience a fever, vomiting or chills, this may be a sign that the kidneys have been affected, so contact your doctor straight away.
If men have symptoms similar to those of cystitis, it may be a sign of an enlarged prostate gland or a condition known as non-specific urethritis (NSU), a sexually transmitted disease that must be treated by your GP. Cystitis in women may occur after intercourse, but is not sexually transmitted.
- Painful urination.
- A frequent urge to urinate only to be disappointed by a tiny output, and/or feeling the urge to go again a few minutes later.
- The need to urinate frequently during the night.
- Pain in the lower abdomen.
- Smelly urine or urine of an unusual colour or cloudiness.
What causes it?
- Cystitis used to be called the ‘honeymooner’s disease’ because frequent sex, and the mechanical rubbing against the urethra during intercourse, increases the opportunity for bacteria to travel to the urinary tract.
- Women who use a diaphragm for contraception are more prone to cystitis because it must be physically inserted.
- After menopause, when there is less oestrogen present, the lining of the urethra thins, increasing the chance of cystitis.
- The oral contraceptive pill and other medications can make women more susceptible to cystitis.
- Candida albicans, a yeast that commonly occurs in the vagina, can sometimes become troublesome and travel to the bladder, creating symptoms very similar to cystitis.
- Diabetics are more prone to cystitis, possibly due to an increase of sugar in the body. Bacteria just love sugar.
- Pregnancy is also a time when cystitis is more common. The change in hormones and pressure on the bladder are two likely triggers.
- Stress lowers your immunity and makes you more susceptible to infections like cystitis.
What to do
- Even though you might be running to the toilet all the time, now is the time to keep drinking. Drink at least 3 litres of fluid daily to flush out the bugs from your bladder. At least 2 litres of your daily intake should consist of pure water.
- Barley water is a traditional remedy for cystitis. Boil 1 litre of water with a handful of pearl barley. Simmer to reduce it down to about 500 ml. Drink when the liquid has cooled. A little lemon juice can be added for taste.
- Corn silk. If you have access to fresh heads of corn, use the hair or silk that surrounds the cob and use in a similar way to pearl barley above, or add to the brew if you have both.
- Cranberry juice. Drink two glasses of unsweetened cranberry juice a day. Cranberries can inhibit the ability of bacteria to adhere to the lining of the bladder, as can blueberries. Add a handful to your fruit salad or smoothie.
- Avoid coffee. It is a bladder irritant. This goes for decaf as well.
- Garlic and onions are naturally antibiotic.
- Avoid sugar. It lowers the immune response.
- Herbal teas are an excellent way to treat cystitis. They combine the therapeutic actions of the herbs with the very necessary extra fluid. Use crataeva, goldenrod, juniper, celery seed, corn silk, buchu, uva ursi and/or shepherd’s purse.
- If this is not your first bout of cystitis, it can be worthwhile upping the stakes and taking the herbs in tablet or tincture form as well as in a herbal tea.
- Cranberry tablets can be taken as part of a treatment as well as a preventative if you are prone to cystitis.
- The probiotic acidophilus can help to normalise bacteria. Try a dessertspoon of acidophilus yoghurt or take a teaspoon of powder in water each morning. If you are in a lot of pain, apply a handful of cool, plain yoghurt to the area.
- A buffered form of vitamin C can help fight any infection without causing further acidity.
- Echinacea, vitamin A and zinc can also fight infection. Vitamin A is particularly good for healing the inflamed bladder lining.
- Normally, urine should be slightly acid (around pH 5–6). During a bout of cystitis, however, alkalising the urine will calm the inflamed bladder. This is why over-the-counter sachets for cystitis can work in the short term. A kitchen remedy that will also alkalise the urine is drinking a cup of water containing a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. Note that this merely helps relieve the symptoms and does not treat the infection.
- The homoeopathic remedy cantharis, or Spanish fly, can also be very good, particularly if there is a burning sensation, a non-stop urge to urinate and an inability to empty your bladder completely.
- If you feel your cystitis has an emotional or psychological trigger (ie you are pissed off) then the Bach flower Willow and or Chicory for resentment may help.
- Avoid bubble baths, bath salts, scented soaps and deodorant sprays as they will irritate the area further. Use a low-allergy body wash or a sock or stocking filled with oats in the bath.
- Sandalwood oil is recommended for cystitis. Not to be taken internally, add a couple of drops to your bathwater.
- Adding a cup of bicarbonate of soda to your bath water can also help relieve any burning.
- Wash before and after intercourse. A bidet or hand-held shower is well suited to washing hard-to-reach places. Urinating after intercourse can also help flush away any bacteria.
- If urinating is painful, do so in a warm bath or spray on some warm water.
- Wipe from front to back with each visit to the toilet.
- Some women find tampons may aggravate chronic cystitis or can set off an infection.
- Change sanitary pads regularly (every 3 hours or so) to prevent bacterial growth.
- A hot, sweaty environment is what every bacterium likes. Swap synthetic underpants and tights for a pair of cottontails and knee-highs.
- For many women, cystitis is the body’s eloquent way of saying, ‘I’m pissed off.’
Try this soothing bath oil.
- 2 drops of sandalwood (Aust) oil – a known urinary antiseptic
- 1 drop of atlas cedarwood oil – anti-infectious, decongesting
- 1 drop of tea-tree oil – antibacterial, antiviral, anti-infectious, analgesic
Use in a sitz (hip) bath or double the amount of drops and use in a full bath. Make sure the essential oils are mixed well through the water before sitting down in the bath.
At a glance
- Drink at least 3 litres of fluid daily in order to flush the bacteria from your bladder.
- Avoid coffee and sugar. Coffee is a bladder irritant and sugar has a negative effect on the immune system.
- Drink unsweetened cranberry juice. Cranberries inhibit the bacteria from attaching to the bladder wall.
- Drink herbal teas made from echinacea, crataeva, goldenrod, juniper, celery seed, corn silk, buchu, uva ursi and/or shepherd’s purse.
- Buffered [AQ what does this mean?](non acidic) vitamin C, vitamin A and zinc are all good for the immune system, which needs a boost right now.
- To ease the burning pain of cystitis, drink a cup of water to which a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda has been added. This will only help relieve the symptoms, not treat the cause, which is a bacterial infection.
- Avoid anything likely to irritate the area.
- Wash before and after intercourse.
- Wear cotton underwear and avoid pantihose for a while.
- Consider if you are ‘pissed off’ with something or someone.