What is cystitis?

I will say straight away that I am not a medical person, but a knowledgeable victim of cystitis – and if you read on you will see why this is not necessarily a bad thing!

Often called the honeymoon disease, cystitis / urethritis (inflamation of the bladder or urethra) is one of those rather nebulous conditions with several possible origins, but the most usual one, the one most easily treated and (as I eventually found out) the most easily prevented is infection, either bladder or urinary tract infection.

What causes cystitis in women?

There are several possible causes of cystitis but the most common one is bacterial infections caused by germs. Germs are introduced into the bladder via the urethra in the following ways:

  • From the penis or anus, which arrive in the bladder via the urethra, the tube through which urine is passed. This typically happens during intercourse, inserting tampons or diaphragms or from wiping after using the toilet
  • Failure to fully empty the bladder – you may have a blockage or if you are pregnant the baby could be pressing on the bladder
  • The introduction of ‘foreign bodies’ such as a catheter

Other possibilities include:

  • Friction, again due to intercourse
  • Tight clothing
  • Chemical irritation
  • Diabetes

Urinary tract infection symptoms

  • Feeling or urgency to urinate (pass water)
  • Pain during and after urination (this can vary from a funny tickle to, believe me, very bad indeed)
  • Blood and tissues in the urine
  • Frequent urination

How to describe the pain and symptoms

Many women suffer from cystitis, feel a tickle or pain, go to the pharmacy and buy something over the counter which will solve the problem. This was not me. This is not ‘acute’ cystitis. If you think this doesn’t match your symptoms, if you think you might have acute cystitis, read on.

The nature of the pain and the level of distress for me was very high. After giving birth to my first child I actually thought, “Well that was not so bad. Not as bad as having cystitis.” Now when you go to the doctor, you must convey this level of distress and pain, because they think cystitis in a minor affliction and will try to fob you off. You have to really make them believe that you are not a hypochondriac or an hysterical, attention-seeking woman. Make them see the real level of your problem. If you have blood in the urine, tell them, this makes them take more notice as it is a ‘real’ symptom, and one they can deal with.

My own cystitis story – onset

My problems with cystitis started with my first partner. Love, pain, doctors, antibiotics and the same thing again, and again!

I went to the doctor, a nice lady in Edinburgh, described the symptoms, was sent away with a prescription for antibiotics and told to send a urine sample to the laboratory. Being young, trustful and still obliging, I took the antibiotics and sent samples to the lab and all was ok again – until the next attack! Then the whole process was repeated. Back to doctors, antibiotics, next attack. Even at that age I could see this was not the answer and knew that tackling the cause was the way to the solution. Now, I must say that this was some time ago and long before the Internet, so getting information was not as straightforward as it is now.

Never-the-less, I persevered with the medics and eventually was told that I could go onto antibiotics permanently or they could perform an operation to reduce the width of my urethra (the tube that carries the urine from the bladder to the outside world).

Celibate for life or major surgery?

OK, I thought, if love = cystitis and the choice is major surgery or permanent medication with antibiotics then I’ll choose celibacy – and this at the grand old age of about 22!

But then fate took a rather fortunate turn – after one of my attacks I went to the docs, yet again, and this time there was a young, Indian, male locum standing in for the permanent doctor. I will never forget him (Are you out there? this was Morningside, Edinburgh when you were very very young – a big thank you!) because he provided me with the first piece in the puzzle towards beating cystitis – lubricating jelly!

The eurika moment – how to prevent cystitis occurring

The young locum’s advice certainly helped, but wasn’t the whole answer. Now I am not superstitious, but I was most fortunate in finding the key to beating cystitis. Those of you who knew London in the 80’s will remember Foyles bookstore. This was a warren of a book shop, with rooms and corridors full of books on shelves on floors and scattered so haphazardly throughout the building that when Waterstones arrived their advertising posters read “Foyled again? Try Waterstones”.

Anyway, I was entering this iconic store, embarking on a search of something completely different, when, quite by chance, I spotted a tiny, soft-backed booklet simply labelled ‘Cystitis’ (I think, because, having memorised this book, implemented its suggestions and found that I can manage my condition, of course, I no longer needed it and it is not lost, but gone before). Luckily I took the time to have a look at it, and because it cost so little, I bought it on impulse. Within this slim volume, lay the answer to my problem with cystitis.

So, how to prevent cystitis attacks?

This little booklet outlined what to do in order to avoid attacks. Clearly, you can see from the nature of cystitis that there is no cure, only management. So here is what you must do:

  1. Reduce or minimise trauma (impact), or friction (rubbing) during love making
  2. Urinate and wash the whole area before ‘the act’
  3. Always wash from the front to the back to avoid ‘contamination’
  4. Tell your partner to wash thoroughly too. Men can be the source of infection. (I am not sure how explicit I can be in HubPages, but it is important that no germs are trapped in the folds of skin. Make sure you explain to your partner that you are trying to avoid germs being introduced into the urethra).
  5. Use lubricating jelly in order to minimise friction and to block the entrance of the urethra.
  6. Ask your partner to use the jelly, again to reduce friction.
  7. Urinate after love making.
  8. Wipe from front to back when using the toilet
  9. Obviously, avoid anything that can cause trauma or the introduction of germs into the urethra.

Sorry, but it is clean living, in every sense of the word, is for you from now on!

What to do if you have an attack of cystitis

  1. Drink water, and lots of it. Put a pint of water on your desk and keep going until you get to the doctor.
  2. Add bicarbonate of soda. This is alkaline and is supposed to help the bladder withstand the attack from the bacteria.
  3. Get to the doctor and get antibiotics fast. If you have a bad attack, like mine, it will not just go away.
  4. Keep drinking the water!

I hope this has helped you

I realise that this is not really what you want to hear, but surely it is better than the alternative? I hope this has helped. It has enabled me to live a fairly normal life. True, I have to choose sensitive and caring partners, and the cystitis sufferer is certainly dissuaded from embarking on affairs casually. Many people would say this is ‘a good thing’, but my only motivation in writing this is to save other women from the discomfort that I suffered and the possible years of misery I had to look forward to, had I not come across my locum doctor and that one, tiny pamphlet. Good luck to you!