1.   Is cystitis a sexually transmitted infection?  

According to present knowledge, cystitis is a bacterial infection that cannot be passed from person to person. However, sexual intercourse can increase the likelihood of bacteria reaching the bladder and causing infection due to the close proximity of the vagina to the urethra (see Figure 1 on the About cystitis page). The use of certain contraceptive methods, such as a diaphragm or condoms, can also increase your risk as it is thought the spermicides used with them alter the vaginal environment (vaginal microbiome), which allows E.coli and other potentially harmful bacteria to colonise.1 As the vagina is very close to the urethra, the bacteria can easily be transferred to the bladder and cause infection.

It is important you do not cease using contraception, due to the risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you think spermicides, condoms or your diaphragm might be contributing to your repeated infections (you can observe a link between their use and the onset of cystitis) your physician will be able to discuss alternative contraceptive methods with you.

 2.   What should I do if I think I have cystitis?

If you think you have symptoms of cystitis you should visit your physician for advice on appropriate treatment options. If left untreated, your symptoms might get worse and it will take longer for treatment to provide relief.

If you have had two cystitis infections in the past six months, or three in the past year you should visit your physician immediately for advice on lifestyle changes and preventive options that might be available to you.

You should always see your physician immediately if you have symptoms of cystitis and are pregnant, develop a high fever or have diabetes, a catheter or a weakened immune system (through illness such as AIDS or if you are taking immune suppressant medication).2

3.   Can cystitis develop into a kidney infection?

With appropriate antibiotic treatment, the symptoms of cystitis will usually resolve completely within a few days. However, in a small number of cases, there is a risk the infection could move to the kidneys which can be more serious. It is important to visit your physician again if your symptoms do not resolve after treatment with a full course of antibiotics, especially if you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system.3

4.   How quickly will they make the diagnosis?

In most cases your physician will examine you, look at your medical history and ask specific questions about your symptoms. You will probably be asked to provide a urine sample and your physician will perform a 'dipstick' test.4 This will give your physician an immediate result, although it does not conclusively diagnose an infection is present. It may be necessary to send a urine sample to a laboratory. The results will determine which bacteria are causing the infection and which treatment you should be prescribed.5

5.   If my symptoms have cleared up can I stop taking antibiotics?

No, you should take the full course of antibiotics, as prescribed by your physician. If you do not take the full course, some bacteria are likely to remain and symptoms can return. Bacteria can also become resistant to particular antibiotics, which means they are not destroyed if that antibiotic is used again to treat infection. Resistance to commonly-prescribed antibiotics is an increasing problem.6 It is therefore important to be aware of preventive measures that are available to you.

 6.   Are there alternative to antibiotics to manage cystitis?

Antibiotics are prescribed to treat cystitis because they kill the bacteria that are causing the infection. They can also be taken in a continuous, low dose or after sexual intercourse as a preventive method.7 However, with the increasing problem of resistance to particular antibiotics (which means the bacteria are no longer destroyed if that antibiotic is used again to treat infection),6 it is important to be aware of other preventive measures available to you.

Immunostimulation is a preventive measure that works by priming your immune system to recognise and destroy infection-causing bacteria, for example E. Coli, when it encounters them, before cystitis symptoms can develop.7,8 There is also some evidence that cranberry juice or capsules can prevent infection-causing bacteria sticking to the bladder wall,7,9 and probiotic products could promote the growth of ‘good’ bacteria to reduce the risk of infection7,10. Post-menopausal women might also benefit from local application of oestrogen products, to help prevent infection by restoring the pre-menopausal vaginal environment (vaginal microbiome).7,11Your physician will be able to provide more information on preventive options and advise if any would be suitable for you.

7.   Can men or children get cystitis?

Men and children who have symptoms of cystitis are likely to have an underlying anatomical or functional problem of the urinary tract that promotes bacterial infection (eg. an obstruction of the urinary tract or a defect they were born with). It is very important that they visit their physician immediately to seek expert diagnosis and appropriate treatment, which might be surgery.7,12,13