- Urinary Tract Infection
What are cystitis and urinary tract infections?
Your urinary tract is made up of your kidneys, ureters, and bladder. Your body uses this system to rid itself of waste, including bacteria. Your kidneys produce urine, which travels to the bladder for storage before emptying through the urethra.
Normally, your urine does not contain bacteria. When bacteria are introduced to your body through the urethra, they can cause a urinary tract infection (UTI) that is uncomfortable and potentially harmful to your body.
Cystitis and UTIs have similar causes but affect different parts of the urinary system.
What is a urinary tract infection?
“Urinary tract infection” is an umbrella term for three possible infections. The diagnosis of each depends on where bacteria are introduced within your urinary tract.
Sometimes bacteria may pass through one part of the urinary tract without causing harm before infecting a different region.
What is cystitis?
Cystitis is a type of UTI caused by bacteria moving up the urinary tract, infecting the bladder.
Other types of UTIs include:
- Urethritis: Bacteria infects the urethra
- Pyelonephritis: Blockages in the urinary tract cause urine to back up into the kidneys, causing a kidney infection. Infections that spread up to the kidneys can also cause pyelonephritis.
Symptoms of cystitis and urinary tract infections
The symptoms of cystitis and urinary tract infection are largely the same, so it can be difficult to tell which you’re experiencing.
Symptoms of cystitis
The pain associated with cystitis may be localized to your bladder. If you have cystitis, you’re likely to experience:
- A feeling of needing to pee more often than normal, even right after using the bathroom
- Cloudy urine that is dark and strong-smelling
- Pain or burning when you urinate
- Blood in your urine
- Pain in your lower stomach area
- A general feeling of sickness, achiness, and tiredness
Notably, cystitis does not usually cause fever, which is the major difference between symptoms of the two conditions.
Symptoms of urinary tract infections
The most common type of a UTI is a bladder infection. Signs you may have one include:
- Cloudy or milky-looking urine
- Urine that smells bad
- Blood in the urine
- Fever, meaning the infection has reached your kidneys
- Pain or burning when urinating
- An urge to pee often, but not much comes out when you go
Causes of cystitis and urinary tract infections
Causes of cystitis
Cystitis can affect anyone, but women are at a much higher risk. The most common cause of cystitis is a bacterial infection, but it can also occur if the bladder gets damaged or irritated in another way.
Other causes of cystitis include:
- Friction from sexual intercourse
- Irritation from chemicals found in perfumed soap or bubble bath
- Damage from a catheter or bladder surgery
- Medical treatments such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy medications
Some people may be at increased risk of cystitis, including people who have diabetes, people nearing menopause, and people with a history of difficulty emptying their bladders.
Causes of urinary tract infections
Anyone can get a urinary tract infection, although women and girls are at a higher risk than men and boys. This is because the urethra is shorter and closer to the anus.
Other causes include:
- History of UTIs
- Sexual activity, especially if you or the other person has poor hygiene
- Changes in the bacteria caused by new soaps or spermicides
- Pregnancy and other hormone changes
- Age (older adults and young children are more likely to get UTIs)
- Prostate enlargement for men
- Poor hygiene, especially for children who are potty training
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Stages of cystitis and urinary tract infections
Stages of cystitis
While cystitis is more serious than bacteria in the urethra, it is still easy to treat when it’s caught early. If cystitis isn't treated, the bacteria can spread to your kidneys. Kidney infections are rare but serious.
Stages of urinary tract infections
Urinary tract infections begin on the outside of the body at the urethra. Some bacteria stop there and do not travel further into the urinary tract. If bacteria do make it into the bladder, they can cause cystitis.
Diagnosing cystitis and urinary tract infections
First, your doctor will ask about your symptoms. They may also complete urinalysis to determine your diagnosis. This test will look for:
Treatments for cystitis and urinary tract infections
Your treatment plan will be customized to the severity of your condition and your symptoms. In most cases, your doctor will prescribe an oral antibiotic to kill bacteria and prevent further infection.
You should finish all the antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. Finish them even if you feel better before the end of your treatment. If you do not finish the antibiotics, you may develop an infection that is harder to treat.
If this happens, you may have a short hospital stay for intravenous (IV) antibiotics and fluids. In addition to treating the infection itself, your doctor may also treat your symptoms with pain medicine to ease discomfort.
Once your infection is clear, make the necessary lifestyle changes to reduce your chances of a future urinary tract infection.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
National Health Service: "Cystitis."
National Kidney Foundation: "What is a Urinalysis (also called a urine test)."
Office on Women's Health: "Urinary tract infections."
Stanford Health Care: "Types of Urinary Tract Infections."
Urology Care Foundation: "Urinary Tract Infections in adults."
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