Probably because the female anatomy is so complex in many different ways, it is also more prone to bladder infections or urinary tract infections (UTIs). Cystitis is a urinary infection that affects the bladder.

A woman's urinary anatomy is more compact than a man's.  The female urethra (the tube which passes urine from the bladder) is much shorter and is closer to the anus.  This particular "geography" makes it easier for bacteria to enter into a woman's bladder, allowing infections to occur which inflame the bladder lining.

The classic symptoms of cystitis include a feeling of frequent and urgent need to urinate, even when there is very little urine inside the bladder.  Urine which is passed usually causes a stinging sensation in the sore and inflamed lining of the urethra.  In cases of severe cystitis the urine may be tinged with blood.  Other symptoms can include nausea, headache, fever or lower abdominal pain.

Causes of Cystitis

Bacteria are always the cause of cystitis.  However, physicians categorize the condition in two ways:  infectious and non-infectious.  Neither is more common than the other.

  • Infectious cystitis - This type occurs when bacteria (typically E-coli, but not the E-coli that causes food poisoning) reach the bladder and irritate the lining, causing inflammation.  E-coli is normally found in the bowels, and because the opening to the urethra is close to the anus in a woman's body, it is easy for the bacteria to pass from one to the other.  However, the bacteria begin to multiply in the bladder, irritating the lining and causing pain, inflammation and infection.

  • Levels of hormones may also be responsible.  During menopause, low estrogen levels can lead to a thinning of the tissue in the vagina, which allows the bacteria to more easily pass through to the urinary tract.  Reduced estrogen can also make the urethra and lining of the bladder thinner, drier and more likely to become infected.  The muscles in the bladder and the ureters become relaxed during pregnancy, which allows bacteria more time to multiply.

  • Non-infectious cystitis - This form of cystitis is usually the result of either too much sexual action or too aggressive lovemaking, thus bruising the bladder.  It is usually not the result of infection.  While non-infectious cystitis triggers the symptoms of cystitis by itself, it also makes the woman more susceptible to a secondary bacterial infection.  Other causes of this form of cystitis can be wearing a sanitary napkin for too long; wearing constrictive tights, underwear or trousers; cosmetic irritations from bubble baths or soaps; the vibrations from riding a motorcycle or a horse; chlorine from swimming pools; and consuming spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine.


Infectious cystitis can spread from the bladder to the kidneys.  A kidney infection is a serious condition that can lead to permanent kidney damage.  It is, therefore, crucial to visit a physician at the first sign of a cystitis infection.

Treatments can include:

  • Antibiotics - Doctors prescribe antibiotics for infectious cases of cystitis, which will quickly relieve the symptoms and clear the infection completely within a week.  However, antibiotics will destroy not only bad bacteria  but good bacteria as well.  Extra probiotic supplements need to be taken to replenish stocks in the body.

  • Diet - Eating a healthy diet will boost immunity and encourage the body to rid itself of infectious cystitis. 

  • Avoid acidic foods and drinks - Do not consume tea, coffee, alcohol, sugar, meat, spicy foods and undiluted citrus juices.  If the woman is prone to cystitis infections, eliminate these foods and drinks completely from the diet.  Drinking lots of water is also helpful.

  • Barley water - Drinking barley water serves as a very good anti-inflammatory agent for the urinary system.  Put 1.25 litres of water in a pan and bring to a boil.  Add 40g of whole barley and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add the juice of one lemon and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Pour a cupful and sip over the course of a day. Leftover barley water can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

  • Eat live yogurt - Live, plain yogurt contains beneficial bacteria (also known as probiotics) that help to add good flora to the body.  This is particularly important for people who have been taking antibiotics.

  • Avoid sugar - Sugar is the all-time favorite food of bacteria and will worsen a cystitis infection.  During bouts of cystitis, completely cut sugar from the diet.  This includes sweets and fruit juices.

  • Cranberry juice - Unsweetened, unpasteurized and natural cranberry juice will help overcome cystitis.  Cranberries are high in substances called proanthocyanidins.  These agents prevent E-coli bacteria from attaching to the mucous lining of the bladder and urethra.  If the bacteria cannot attach, they cannot multiply and get washed away in the urine flow.  Cranberry juice can also be used as a preventative if someone is prone to cystitis.  Powedered cranberry supplements can also be taken, or one can eat the fresh fruit.

  • Garlic - Immunity-boosting garlic helps to eliminate E-coli bacteria, along with other forms of bacteria which may contribute to cystitis. 


Some of the supplements which will aid in ridding the body of cystitis include:

  • Vitamin C - The bioflavonoids in vitamin C can prevent E-coli from multiplying.  Take 1,000 mg four times a day.

  • Beta-carotene - This is a potent antioxidant that can help the cells combat infection.

  • Zinc - Another important antioxidant, zinc also helps fight off infections.

  • Bromelain - A natural enzyme, bromelain contains anti-inflammatory properties for the bladder.  It also helps treat non-infectious cystitis.

  • Herbs - Some herbs which fight cystitis include corn silk, echinacea, uva ursi, horsetail, and yarrow.


  1. Canas, M. et al. (2006). Women's health. Barcelona, Spain : Rebo
  2. Glenville, M. (2010).The natural health bible for women : the complete guide for women of all ages.London : Duncan Baird Publishers
  3. Jarvis, S.(2009).Women's health for life : medical advice you can trust : symptoms, treatment, prevention. London : Dorling Kindersley
  4. Northrup,C.(2009). Women's bodies, women's wisdom : the complete guide to women's health and wellbeing. London : Piatkus
  5. Timyan, J. et al. (1993).The Health of women : a global perspective. Boulder : Westview Press

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