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Cystitis vs other UTIs

Cystitis versus other UTIs
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An infection of the urinary tract like cystitis is really common, especially in women, and something that most of us experience at least once.

What you might not know is that there are different types of UTI and some require different types of treatment. If you’d like to learn the differences, read on for our simple guide.

What is a urinary tract infection?

A UTI is an infection that affects the urinary tract i.e. the system that processes and passes out urine. A UTI can affect:

  • The urethra – the tube that passes urine out of the body, found in the penis in men and just above the vagina in women.
  • The bladder – the organ that store urine.
  • The ureters – the tubes that pass urine from the kidneys to the bladder.
  • The kidneys – the organs that produce urine from waste and excess fluid.

It’s usually caused by bacteria from your faeces entering the urethra and infecting your urinary tract. This tends to happen more easily in women than in men because women have a shorter urethra and bacteria does not need to travel as far to the bladder or the kidneys.

Types of UTI

Bacteriuria is where you have bacteria in your urine and this may or may not be accompanied by symptoms of a UTI. A lower UTI is one that affects the lower portion of the urinary tract i.e. the urethra and the bladder. These infections are known as urethritis (urethra) and cystitis (bladder). Lower UTIs tend to be mild and don’t always need medical treatment, but they can be cleared up with a short course of antibiotics.

An upper UTI is one that affects the upper portion of the urinary tract i.e. the ureters and the kidneys. An infection of this part of the urinary tract is sometimes called pyelitis or pyelonephritis - or alternatively, a kidney infection. Upper UTIs are usually more serious than lower UTIs and may require urgent treatment with antibiotics.

What is cystitis?

As we’ve seen, cystitis is a type of UTI that specifically affects the bladder. Amongst other symptoms, it can cause pain when urinating and an increased urge to urinate. It’s most common in women, but can also affect men and children.

Cystitis can be treated with antibiotics, but this isn’t always necessary as the infection may clear up on its own. You can learn more by reading this article: What is cystitis?

Key differences between cystitis and other UTIs

Causes

The most common cause for all types of UTI is bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract (i.e. from faeces) entering the urinary tract. The bacteria most commonly associated with UTIs is E. coli. On rare occasions, a UTI can be caused by something else, like the fungus Candida albicans.

Symptoms

The main symptoms of cystitis are:

  • A painful burning or stinging sensation when you urinate
  • Needing to urinate more often
  • Needing to urinate urgently
  • Dark, cloudy or strong-smelling urine
  • Blood in your urine
  • Pain in your lower abdomen

These symptoms are characteristic of lower and upper UTIs. However, in addition to these symptoms, an upper UTI that affects the kidneys can also cause the following:

  • Pain in your back and side and around your genitals
  • Fever, shivering and chills
  • Feeling very unwell, weak and tired
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea

Symptoms in children can include

  • High temperature – they feel hotter than usual if you touch their neck, back or tummy
  • Wetting themselves
  • Reduced appetite and being sick
  • Weakness and irritability

These symptoms may come on quite quickly i.e. in a matter of hours. You should contact your GP or call 111 immediately if you think you have a kidney infection, as this needs urgent treatment with antibiotics.

When to see a doctor

The NHS advice for cystitis is to see your GP if you have cystitis and:

  • Your symptoms haven’t gone away after three days
  • You have severe symptoms e.g. pain in your lower abdomen, blood in your urine
  • You’re pregnant
  • You’re a man or a child

For a suspected upper UTI/kidney infection you should seek help as soon as possible by making an urgent appointment with your GP or calling 111.

If you don’t have time for an appointment, try Online Doctor’s VideoGP service – you can speak to a doctor at home using an app on your smartphone.

Treatment

Mild cystitis may clear up on its own within a few days. Otherwise, your GP will prescribe a short course of antibiotics. While you are recovering you should drink plenty of water and urinate frequently. You can ease pain and discomfort with over-the-counter painkillers and a hot water bottle on your abdomen.

An upper UTI/kidney infection requires a longer course of antibiotics than cystitis. Most people will be able to have this treatment at home, however some might need treatment in a hospital or further tests to find out the cause of the infection.

Cystitis treatments

References

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/urinary-tract-how-it-works
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-tract-infections-utis
https://patient.info/doctor/urinary-tract-infection-in-adults
https://bnf.nice.org.uk/treatment-summary/urinary-tract-infections.html
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/kidney-infection
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cystitis
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/kidney-infection/symptoms
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/kidney-infection/treatment