The term cystitis is used to describe a bladder inflammation, generally caused by a UTI or urinary tract infection. It's a common mistake to believe that only women can get cystitis; in fact, men are also able to develop it. The likelihood of cystitis in men is lower for one simple reason – the relative length of the urethra in men and women. In women, the potential transfer of bacteria into the urethra is made easier as the opening of the urethra is closer to the anus. This is not the only possible cause of cystitis, but it does explain the varying rates of the condition.
The condition known as interstitial cystitis, however, is somewhat different, both in terms of symptoms and of possible treatments. The main symptoms include a sensation of pain in the bladder (it's sometimes known as bladder pain syndrome, or IC/BPS) but without a clearly identifiable infection, as might be expected with cystitis. Pain like this is experienced in the lower abdomen, and is coupled with unusually frequent, strong urges to urinate. These symptoms may come and go in cycles over a few months.
The differences between cystitis and IC have led some researchers to believe that the condition is misleadingly named, and in fact the exact causes of IC are the subject of debate. Allergies have been suggested as a possible cause, as well as problems with the lining of the bladder or the pelvic floor muscles. It's also possible that IC may sometimes be a symptom of a separate condition (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome).
Possible new treatments for interstitial cystitis
The US-based Interstitial Cystitis Association suggests that up to 8 million American women suffer from IC, with possibly half as many men. The confusion surrounding the causes of IC (as opposed to cystitis) has led some US researchers to propose a step-based programme of treatments aimed at minimising its symptoms. In the early stages of treatment, these include lifestyle and dietary changes and advice on pain management. Dietary changes may include gradual elimination of certain types of food and drink, in order to find out which may be triggers for the symptoms. Some over-the-counter medications may also be prescribed by GPs.
The "steps" in this kind of approach to treating IC are ordered by risk factor; if the least risky strategies provide acceptable relief, there's no need to proceed to the next level. As an example, the fourth proposed stage of treatment may include Botox injections, while the following stages could involve surgery.
Cystitis: symptoms and treatment options
Cystitis itself is easier to treat than IC, and in fact some over-the-counter medications, as well as antibiotics in some cases, are available from The Online Clinic. While milder instances of cystitis often clear up without treatment, if you experience frequent symptoms, or the condition doesn't get better after a few days, you should see a doctor. Men with cystitis symptoms should always seek medical advice, and children complaining of similar symptoms should also be taken to a doctor. More severe symptoms may include fever and/or passing blood during urination.
Preventative measures are centred around avoiding bacteria entering the urethra (allowing bladder infections to develop) as well as certain lifestyle changes. While cranberry juice has long been thought of as a cure or prevention, there's very little scientific evidence that this is the case. Making sure you've completely emptied your bladder when you urinate is recommended, as well as wearing looser underwear made from natural fibres (e.g. cotton). Drinking plenty of water in order to flush out the urinary system is also a good idea.
It's also possible that irritants in certain kinds of shower gels, shampoos, bubble baths and similar products could be a problem; avoid perfumed varieties, and if possible take a shower rather than a bath. If you suffer from cystitis, try avoiding any drinks containing caffeine. These will not cause cystitis in themselves, but may aggravate the symptoms. Some medical professionals believe that the use of a bidet could be a risk factor for cystitis, as bacteria can be washed upwards towards the urethra.
It is important to see a doctor if cystitis symptoms don't clear up, as there is a possibility of contracting a kidney infection in some cases. However, cystitis is generally simple both to diagnose and to treat.