Anyone who has been stuck on the toilet willing themselves to ‘go’ will know all too well that cystitis can be a real pain. And all too common. But what exactly is it and how can we prevent it? We break down everything you need to know…
What is cystitis?
Put simply, cystitis is an inflammation of the urethra which can lead to an infection of the bladder so anything that could cause trauma to this area could be responsible.
There are two main types of cystitis: bacterial (infectious) and non-bacterial and the division is typically half and half so if you are suffering, it’s just as likely to be either causes.
What causes cystitis?
Bacterial cystitis is caused when bacteria enters the body via the urethra. Once it’s made its way in, it can travel to the bladder and even the kidneys if left untreated.
Tampons can make you susceptible to bacterial cystitis. This is because the chemicals from tampons can irritate the delicate lining of the vagina, encouraging inflammation and bacterial infection which then travels to the urethra. The string on a tampon can act like the fuse on a stick of dynamite: providing bacteria with easy access to the body.
Non-bacterial or non-infective cystitis is normally caused by bruising or irritation of the urethra. Often, this can be caused by sex, which is why cystitis often is charmingly referred to as the ‘honeymoon disease’. Sex can also cause infectious cystitis; when body fluids are mixed, bacteria can more easily be transferred to the urinary tract.
Other causes of non-bacterial cystitis include: chemical irritants, including soaps and bubble baths. Even swimming pool chlorine can irritate the delicate lining of the urethra.
Drinking too little can make the urine over-concentrated, causing irritation of the urethra and the bladder, which is never properly emptied.
Some foods can also irritate the bladder and the urethra, including spicy foods, alcohol, strong coffee and any foods to which you may be allergic. Fresh fruit juice is also highly acidic, which can cause irritation in some people.
Some women experience cystitis during pregnancy because the urethra is relaxed by the extra progesterone produced by the body. In later pregnancy, urine can remain trapped in the bladder due to the size of the expanding foetus, also causing inflammation.
Cystitis is also more common around the menopause because, as oestrogen levels fall, the walls of the vagina become thinner and the walls of the urethra shrink, encouraging bacterial infection and making women more susceptible to irritants.
So how can you prevent it? We spoke to Dr. Marilyn Glenville, author of The Natural Health Bible for Women, who recommends the following:
Using your diet
Avoid highly concentrated and acidic foods and drinks like tea, coffee and juices as they can trigger cystitis. If you are recovering from a bout then it’s probably best to cut them out entirely. Instead, six to eight glasses of pure, filtered or mineral water every day to help dilute the acid in your urine.
Drink barley water
Barley water makes a great anti-inflammatory agent for the urinary system. Buy whole barley, put 1.5oz (40g) in 2 pints (1.2 litres) water, boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Add a slice of lemon or the juice of one lemon and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Allow to cool, then sip the water throughout the day.
Eat live yogurt
Organic, live natural yogurt contains lots of beneficial bacteria to help recolonize your system, especially if you have been taking antibiotics.
Drink cranberry juice
It’s an oldie but a goodie – drinking unsweetened, unpasteurised and wholly natural, cranberry juice will help overcome cystitis because cranberries are high in substances called proanthocyanidins. These prevent the E coli bacteria from attaching themselves to the mucus lining of the bladder and urethra. If they can’t attach, they can’t multiply and this means they simply get washed away in your urine.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms then see your GP.