Acute Cystitis

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Your doctor has determined that you have acute cystitis, a form of urinary tract infection (UTI) often referred to as a bladder infection. Each year in the U.S., nearly 10 million people develop a UTI, with women affected much more often than men.

About the Condition

The bladder is a stretchable oval chamber in the lower abdomen that is part of the urinary tract, which also includes the kidneys, ureters and urethra. Its main purpose is to store urine. The kidneys remove extra water and wastes from the blood and convert them to urine. The ureters are narrow tubes that transport urine from the kidneys to the bladder. Urine is emptied out of the body from the bladder through the urethra.

Acute cystitis — the most common type of UTI — occurs when bacteria enter the opening of the urethra and spread to the bladder. In about 80% of cases, the cause is a type of bacteria called Escherichia coli (E. coli), which are normally present in the digestive tract. Other bacteria that can cause bladder infections include Staphylococcus saprophyticus, Chlamydia trachomatis and Mycoplasma hominis.

The bacteria enter the urethral opening from the skin around the anus or genitals in various ways, such as wiping from back to front after using the toilet or having a urinary catheter (tube) placed in the bladder to drain urine from the body. Sexual intercourse can trigger UTIs in some women, as can the use of a diaphragm for birth control. Being pregnant or having certain diseases such as diabetes, HIV, cancer and sickle cell anemia also increases the risk of developing acute cystitis.

It is believed that women develop UTIs more often then men because of their shorter urethras, which exit the body closer to the source of bacteria. Although women suffer these infections more frequently, they are often more serious and harder to treat in men.

The most common symptoms of acute cystitis include:

•  Burning or pain when urinating
•  Cloudy, bloody or odd-smelling urine
•  Frequent and sometimes intense urges to urinate
•  Lower back or abdominal pain
•  An inability to urinate despite the urge to go
•  Fever and general discomfort

Treatment Options

It is important to deal with acute cystitis promptly when it develops, as it can progress to a kidney infection if left untreated. Kidney infection is a serious condition that requires immediate treatment and can cause reduced kidney function or even death.

Antibiotics are used to kill the bacteria that cause acute cystitis. The type of drug prescribed and the length of treatment depend on the type of bacteria and other factors such as your age, sex and general health condition. Medications used include amoxicillin, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, fluoroquinolones, tetracycline and doxycycline.

To make sure your infection clears up completely and prevent a kidney infection, you should take your medication as directed and finish the entire supply, even though you may feel better within a couple of days. Your doctor may schedule a follow-up exam to test your urine after treatment is finished to confirm that the bacterial infection is gone.

Some people develop UTIs frequently, three or more times each year. In those cases, low-dose antibiotics may be prescribed for six months or longer to prevent repeat infections. Scientists are working to develop a vaccine to prevent UTIs that may be taken as a pill or vaginal suppository.

What You Can Do

To help reduce symptoms of acute cystitis, you should drink plenty of water and avoid coffee, alcohol and smoking. You can use a heating pad on your lower abdomen and take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication containing ibuprofen or acetaminophen to ease the pain, as well as sit in a shallow tub of hot water to help with burning of the urethral opening.

In addition, you may want to take the OTC medication phenazopyridine for pain relief. Although you will feel a masking of symptoms with this drug, it is important to remember that is not an antibiotic and it will not cure your infection. Be sure to follow the package instructions carefully, and talk with your doctor about what prescription and OTC medications are best for your individual situation.

Steps you can take to prevent future UTIs include:

•  Drinking at least 6–8 glasses of liquids each day, preferably water
•  Urinating frequently and going when you first feel the urge
•  Taking showers instead of baths and avoiding bubble bath during a tub bath
•  Wiping from front to back after using the toilet, especially after bowel movements
•  Drinking cranberry or blueberry juice sweetened with fruit juice (rather than sugar)
•  Avoiding scented toilet paper and feminine products
•  Wearing cotton underwear and avoiding tight-fitting jeans and nylon underwear
•  Cleansing the genital area before sexual intercourse and urinating afterward

Additional Resources

American Foundation for Urologic Disease, 800.828.7866,
Urology Channel,  

This patient resource sheet is provided to you as a service of CBLPath® and is intended for information purposes only. It may not fully describe all aspects of your diagnosis and is not meant to serve as medical advice or a substitute for professional medical care. Your physician can provide you with a thorough explanation of your diagnosis and appropriate treatment options, which may vary. Only you and your physician can determine your best treatment plan.

Updated 3.08