Urinary tract infections such as cystitis are surprisingly common, with approximately one-third of all women experiencing at least one at some stage of their lives. Men can also be affected, especially in their older years, when cystitis may be related to lower urinary tract issues such as benign prostatic hyperplasia.
What causes Cystitis?
Most cases of Cystitis are caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract from the bowel or genital area and adhering to the mucous membranes, where it causes inflammation and pain. The most common bacterium responsible for cystitis infections is Escherichia coli (E. coli).
Women are more prone to cystitis than men due to the shorter length of their urethras, which make it easier for the bacteria to take up residence in the urinary tract. Additionally, the likelihood of urinary tract infection is increased by the following risk factors:
- Hormonal fluctuations that occur during pregnancy, menopause and certain stages of the menstrual cycle.
- Sexual intercourse.
- Use of contraceptive diaphragms, spermicidal gels or other personal care products that interfere with the genito-urinary environment.
- History of previous urinary tract infections (including in childhood).
- Conditions that cause incomplete or delayed emptying of the bladder.
- Antibiotic use.
- Vaginal atrophy (which may be experienced by some women during and after menopause).
Cranberry for Prevention
Numerous clinical studies have demonstrated that taking cranberry may help to prevent cystitis infections. It appears to be particularly effective for women who experience recurrent cystitis infections, although it seems to be less effective in older people and those who develop infections as a result of using catheters to assist with urination. It is believed that cranberries work by impairing E. coli’s ability to stick to the cells of the mucous membranes lining the bladder, minimising its ability to cause infection.
Even though cystitis makes it painful to go to the toilet, it’s important to drink plenty of water during a cystitis attack so that your urinary tract is constantly being flushed out. Try adding a teaspoon of baking soda to your water to alkalise your urine and reduce the stinging pain. Other tips to aid the management and prevention of cystitis include:
- Go to the toilet as soon as you feel the urge as this reduces the amount of time urine is present in the bladder.
- When going to the toilet, wipe yourself from front to back, rather than from back to front.
- Avoid using chemicals or perfumes around the genital region (e.g. deodorant, vaginal douches, spermicidal gels, scented soaps, bubble bath and talcum powder).
- Choose natural fibres such as cotton and bamboo for your underwear and avoid synthetic options, including pantyhose.
- Wash your genitals prior to having sex and go to the toilet afterwards.
See your doctor
Please bear in mind that it’s important to see your doctor if cystitis is persistent, recurrent or accompanied by bloody urine, severe pain, or pain in the kidney region. If you’re taking cranberry, don’t forget to let your doctor know. Cystitis symptoms in children should always be medically investigated.