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Cystitis in women - What is cystitis?

BMJ Group Medical Reference


If you get a burning pain when you pass urine, you might have cystitis. Cystitis can clear up on its own in a few days, or you might need treatment. If you get cystitis a lot, your doctor may recommend treatments to stop you getting further infections.

We've brought together the best research about cystitis in women and weighed up the evidence about how to treat it. You can use our information to talk to your doctor and decide which treatments are best for you.

Cystitis happens when germs (bacteria) grow in your bladder. This causes inflammation and irritation. You might find that it hurts when you pass urine.

Both men and women can get cystitis. But these infections are rare in men. The causes are also different. Here we deal with cystitis in women, and look at what to do about frequent infections (this is called recurrent cystitis).


Normally urine contains no bacteria. But sometimes, bacteria from around your rectum and genitals can spread to your urethra (the tube that carries urine from your bladder to the outside). From here, the bacteria can travel up to your bladder and cause an infection.

The infection irritates the lining of your urethra and bladder, and sometimes your kidneys. This is similar to what happens when an infection irritates the inside of your nose or throat when you have a cold. You'll probably feel a burning pain when you pass urine. You might also find that you need to pass urine often or suddenly.[1]

Women are more likely than men to get cystitis. This is because their urethra is shorter and opens nearer their anus.

Wiping from back to front, instead of front to back, after you have a bowel movement increases the chances of spreading bacteria to your bladder. You're also more likely to get cystitis after sex.[2] You can try to prevent an infection by urinating after you've had sex. This might help get rid of any bacteria that have got into your bladder and urethra.

Other things that increase your chances of getting cystitis include:

  • Using a contraceptive cream (also called a vaginal spermicide)[2]

  • Having diabetes

  • Having a tube to drain urine from your bladder (this is called a catheter)

  • Being elderly (you might get infections if your bladder doesn't empty completely because of medical problems or if you have a hard time getting to a toilet)[3]

  • Reaching the menopause (your defence against infection can become weaker because of changes to the lining of your vagina and urethra)

  • Being pregnant (the baby can press down on your bladder and other parts of your urinary tract, so your bladder can't empty completely and flush out any bacteria).

Last Updated: November 04, 2010
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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