Bacterial Cystitis

Cystitis is an inflammation of the bladder. Cystitis predominately affects women, but occasionally it can affect men and children.

What causes cystitis?

In most cases, cystitis is caused by a bacterial infection. Bacteria can make its way into the urinary system in different ways, these can include:

Sexual intercourse

This may introduce bacteria into the bladder and can also bruise the urethra and bladder


This is a common cause in women as women have a shorter urethra than men. Also in women the urethra is closer to the anus.


Bubble baths and fragranced products can irritate the urethra and the bladder.


When pregnant, pressure from the uterus may result in incomplete emptying of the bladder, and this can encourage bacteria to grow.


The urine of someone with diabetes can contain a lot of sugar which can encourage bacteria growth. The bladder can also be affected by diabetes, preventing it from contracting and not emptying properly. This again, can encourage bacteria to grow.

Postmenopausal changes

Postmenopausal women experience a decrease in hormones which cause changes in the body. These changes may include reducing the normal defences of the urethra and allowing harmful bacteria to grow.


Bacteria may colonise in the urine if a catheter has been inserted into the bladder. If the catheter is in place for a long period of time, it is inevitable that the bacteria will grow and the bladder will then become infected.

Kidney / bladder stones

These can cause urine to stagnate in the bladder and this will encourage the growth of bacteria and act as a focus for infection.

What are the symptoms of cystitis?

The main symptoms associated with bacterial cystitis include:

  • Pain when urinating
  • An urgent need to pass water but only passing small amounts
  • Feeling a need to urinate even when the bladder is empty
  • Urine that can be cloudy and dark and strong smelling

There are other associated symptoms which are less common including:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Chills and fever
  • Feeling generally unwell
  • Pain in the lower back and or abdomen
  • Lethargy

Diagnosing cystitis

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, you should visit your GP who will ask for a urine sample to aid diagnosis.

Low grade bacterial infections and cystitis

In some cases, all the symptoms of bacterial cystitis may be present yet a urine sample does not indicate the presence of any infection.  In these cases, the symptoms of bacterial cystitis can persist even if a course of antibiotics has been prescribed and been unsuccessful.

If the above is relevant to you, this may mean that you suffer from a low grade bacterial infection. Your urine sample may contain a slightly raised level of white blood cells but no infection. To treat this, a longer course of antibiotics may be prescribed to help clear the infection. Please visit your GP to have this investigated.


Options to consider and discuss with your health professional.

Bacterial Cystitis Treatments

Further Information

For further information about bacterial cystitis contact the Cystitis and Overactive Bladder Foundation Ltd.
Website –  Email –
Telephone – 0121 702 0820