The symptoms of cystitis vary. Sometimes a sufferer complains that she is always rushing off to the toilet to pass urine and finding, when she’s got there, that it’s been a false alarm. And sometimes the complaint is about a stinging when the urine is passed. I’ve said ‘she’ because although men do get cystitis it is far more common among women. There is no subtle hormonal explanation for this variation. The explanation is simple and anatomical: in women the urethra (the tube which connects the bladder to the outside world) is shorter, more vulnerable and less of a problem for invading infective organisms.

Infections are one of the common causes of cystitis and there are several things that can be done to minimize this risk. The experts say that frequent bathing is useful and that plain, simple soaps should be used in preference to disinfectants or strongly perfumed soaps which can, in fact, make things worse. Cotton, rather than nylon, underwear and loose-fitting clothes help prevent the breeding of infective organ- isms. Stockings are said to be better than tights for the woman who is prone to cystitis.

Sex is another common cause of cystitis since the female urethra may be bruised or damaged by some positions. To prevent this type of problem (known rather quaintly as ‘honeymoon cystitis’) all you can do is avoid uncomfortable or painful positions and use a plain lubricant to reduce soreness and pain. K-Y Lubricating jelly seems to be the most widely acceptable product for this problem.

If despite these simple precautions you still get an attack of cystitis there is much that you can do to minimize the symptoms.

To help flush out any infection you need to drink as much water as you can manage. You really do need to drink several glasses of water every hour. It may sound a crazy treatment for someone whose complaint is that they are finding passing urine painful but the explanation is simply that by drinking you’ll be helping to wash out the infection.

You can relieve some of the stinging or burning and at the same time help kill off some of any bugs which may be involved by putting a tcaspoonful of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) into a glass of water or squash and drinking it. The sodium bicarbonate makes the urine slightly less acid and bacteria don’t like this. There are plenty of other products which you can use to do this but most of them are more expensive and baking soda should be present in your home medicine chest for its value as an emergency antacid.

Repeat the dose of baking soda once an hour for three hours. You can use any painkiller you like and most people find that the warmth of a hot-water bottle placed over the bladder is most helpful.

If the symptoms persist for more than five days or don’t seem to be improving after twenty-four hours then see your own doctor. Incidentally don’t be too worried if your urine contains blood and looks red or smoky coloured – this is a common symptom and usually means nothing of significance. For the sake of safety, however, see your doctor if you see or think you see blood in your urine.

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