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Bladder infection - Treating cystitis

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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The symptoms of mild cystitis usually clear up without treatment within a few days.

Children and men should always see their GP if they have cystitis symptoms. Women should always see their GP the first time they have cystitis symptoms, and also if they have the condition more than three times in one year.

There are some self-help treatments that can ease the discomfort of any symptoms, or your GP may prescribe antibiotics.

Self-help treatments

If you've had cystitis before and you're sure that you have mild cystitis and don't need to see your GP, there are treatments that you can try yourself.

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. These can reduce pain and discomfort. Always read the information leaflet and check with your pharmacist first, particularly if you have another medical condition, you are taking other medicines, or you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Drinking plenty of water is often recommended as a treatment for cystitis. There's no evidence that this is helpful, although drinking plenty of water is generally good for your health. Also avoid alcohol.
  • Don't have sex until your cystitis has cleared up because having sex can make it worse.

Some people find that using urine alkanising agents, such as sodium bicarbonate or potassium citrate, for a short period of time may help to relieve pain when urinating. However, there is currently a lack of clinical evidence for their effectiveness. Check with your GP or pharmacist first if you are taking any other medication.

Drinking cranberry juice is not thought to help relieve pain but may help to prevent outbreaks of recurrent cystitis.

Find out some useful tips on preventing cystitis.


If your symptoms are severe, your GP may prescribe a short course of antibiotics. This will usually involve taking a tablet 2-4 times a day, for three days.

For more complicated cases of cystitis, such as cystitis with another underlying infection, you may be given antibiotics for 5-10 days. Find out more about cystitis complications.

Research suggests that antibiotics can shorten an attack of cystitis by 1-2 days.

If you have mild cystitis, your GP may prefer not to prescribe antibiotics to avoid 'antibiotic resistance'. This is when the bacteria adapt and learn to survive the antibiotics. Over time, this means that the treatment becomes less effective.

Recurring cystitis

If you keep getting cystitis (known as recurring cystitis) your doctor may prescribe stand-by antibiotics or continuous antibiotics. A stand-by antibiotic is a prescription for you to take the next time you have cystitis, without needing to visit your GP again.

Continuous antibiotics are antibiotics that you take for several months to prevent further episodes of cystitis. These may be prescribed if:

  • your cystitis usually occurs after having sex - you may be given a prescription for antibiotics to take within two hours of having sex
  • your cystitis is not related to having sex -you may be given a low-dose antibiotic to take for a trial period of six months

If you are prescribed antibiotics, your symptoms should start to improve after the first day of taking them. If your symptoms don't improve after your course of antibiotics, go back to see your GP, or call NHS 111.

Medical Review: November 07, 2013
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