Was this helpful?

What is cystitis?

Cystitis is an inflammation of the bladder and possibly the urethra that may occur with a urinary tract infection. Cystitis is frequently caused by infection, which is more common in women because a woman’s urethra is shorter than a man’s urethra, making it easier for bacteria to enter and infect the female bladder.

The bladder is a balloon-like organ in the lower abdomen, specifically the pelvis area. The bladder stretches as it collects and stores urine produced by the kidneys. The urethra is a tube that connects the bladder to the outside of the body. During urination, urine is eliminated from the bladder through the urethra. The inflammation of the bladder and urethra caused by cystitis results in symptoms such as feeling the urgent need to urinate, blood in the urine, and burning or pain during urination. Cystitis symptoms may be subtle in the very young and very old.

Cystitis is generally treatable. Treatment options vary depending on the underlying cause.

Left untreated, certain underlying causes of cystitis can result in serious complications, such as a kidney infection (pyelonephritis). Seek prompt medical care if you have symptoms of cystitis. Early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce the risk of complications.

What are the symptoms of cystitis?

The symptoms of cystitis result from the irritation and inflammation of the bladder and the urethra. Symptoms of cystitis include:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

Cystitis that is caused by a bacterial urinary tract infection can lead to potentially serious, even life-threatening complications in some people, especially if left untreated. These include kidney infection (pyelonephritis), kidney failure, and sepsis. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Change in consciousness or mental status

  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit) and chills

  • Inability to urinate

  • Pain on one side of the body between the upper abdomen and the back (flank pain)

  • Producing no urine or only small amounts of dark or tea-colored urine

What causes cystitis?

Cystitis is an inflammation of the bladder and possibly the urethra. Most often, cystitis is caused by a bladder infection, and it occurs most often in women.

Normally, the bladder, urethra, and the rest of the urinary tract are sterile and contain no bacteria or other microorganisms. Cystitis can occur when bacteria enters the bladder from outside the body through the urethra. Bacteria can also come from other parts of the body and cause cystitis by travelling through the bloodstream to the bladder.

Cystitis can also be caused by:

What are the risk factors for cystitis?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing cystitis.

Women who are sexually active, use diaphragms for birth control, and/or are past menopause are at an increased risk for cystitis caused by a urinary tract infection.

Certain other populations are also at a higher risk for developing cystitis. They include:

  • Older adults and the elderly
  • People who have a history of chronic conditions that affect the immune system, such as HIV/AIDS, organ transplantation, and diabetes
  • People who have an indwelling catheter in their bladder
  • People who have had certain types of cancer treatments
  • People who use perfumed soaps, use genital deodorant sprays, or take bubble baths, which can all irritate the urethra
  • People with structural abnormalities to their urinary tract anatomy
  • Women who are pregnant

Reducing your risk of cystitis

Not all people who are at risk for cystitis will develop the condition, and not all people who develop cystitis have risk factors. You may be able to lower your risk of developing cystitis by:

  • Avoiding perfumed soaps, genital deodorant sprays, or bubble baths, which can all irritate the urethra

  • Completing your medication treatment for a bladder infection/urinary tract infection exactly as directed

  • Drinking cranberry juice, which may have infection-fighting qualities  

  • Drinking sufficient water and emptying the bladder frequently and completely

  • Maintaining good genital hygiene through daily gentle washing of the area with mild soap and water

  • Maintaining, changing and cleaning indwelling catheters as directed

  • Urinating as soon as possible after sexual intercourse

  • For women, wiping the genital area from front to back after urinating or defecating

How is cystitis treated?

Treatment of cystitis begins with seeking regular medical care. Regular medical care allows your health care professional to promptly order diagnostic testing in the earliest, most treatable stage of a urinary tract infection or cystitis.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause of cystitis reduces the risk of developing serious complications, such as kidney infection and kidney failure. You can help cure cystitis by consistently following your treatment plan.

Treatment of cystitis may include:

  • Antibiotic medication, if cystitis is caused by a bacterial urinary tract infection, including amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin or nitrofurantoin

  • Avoiding perfumed soaps, genital deodorant sprays, and bubble baths

  • Certain medications that are instilled directly into the bladder to reduce inflammation

  • Drinking plenty of water

  • Urinating frequently

What are the possible complications of cystitis?

Complications of an untreated urinary tract infection, a common underlying cause of cystitis, can be serious in some people. Those at risk include the elderly and people with weakened immune systems or chronic diseases. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan your health care professional designs specifically for you.

Serious complications of cystitis include:

Was this helpful?
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 19
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Cystitis –Acute. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  2. Urinary Tract Infection –Adults. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  3. Tierney LM Jr., Saint S, Whooley MA (Eds.) Current Essentials of Medicine (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011
  4. Hooton TM. Clinical practice. Uncomplicated urinary tract infection. N Engl J Med 2012; 366:1028