The female anatomy, which is so complex and clever in so many ways, also makes us more prone to bladder infections, known medically as cystitis and sometimes called urinary tract infections (UTIs).
A woman’s urinary anatomy is much more compact than a man’s: the female urethra (the tube from the bladder through which you pass urine) is considerably shorter and much closer to the anus. This “geography” makes it much easier for bacteria to pass into the woman’s bladder, causing an infection that inflames the bladder lining. This then leads to the classic cystitis symptom of feeling a frequent, urgent need to go to the bathroom, even if there’s very little urine actually inside the bladder itself. What urine you do pass usually stings the sore and inflamed lining of your urethra on its way out. In severe cases of cystitis, your urine may be tinged with blood. You my also feel nauseous, headachy, or feverish and have lower abdominal pain.
Although bacteria are always the direct cause of cystitis, doctors categorize the condition in two way s- infectious and non-infectious (or bacterial and non-bacterial). Neither is more common than the other.
Infectious cystitis This occurs when bacteria (usually E-coli bacteria, although not the same E coli that causes food poisoning) reach the bladder and irritate the lining, causing inflammation. It’s perfectly normal for E coli to exist in the bowels and, because the opening to the urethra is especially close to the anus in a woman’s body, it’s easy for the bacteria to pass from one to the other. In the bladder, however, they begin to multiply, irritating the bladder lining and causing pain, inflammation, and infection.
Hormone levels may be responsible, too. During menopause, low estrogen levels can lead to thinning of the vagina tissue, which means that bacteria can 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 get infected. During pregnancy, high levels of progesterone relax the muscles in the bladder and the ureter (the tube that goes from the kidney to the bladder), slowing down urine flow. This means that bacteria have more time to multiply, giving infection the opportunity to set in.
Non-infectious cystitis This kind of cystitis is usually the result of too much or aggressive lovemaking, which bruises the bladder; it isn’t usually the direct result of an infection. Although non-infectious cystitis triggers the symptoms of cystitis by itself, it also makes you more susceptible to a secondary bacterial infection. Wearing a sanitary towel for too long; constrictive underwear, tights or trousers; cosmetic irritants, including soaps and bubble baths; vibrations from riding a horse or motorcycle; spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol; dehydration; and chlorine in swimming pools can all also cause non-infectious cystitis.
Infectious cystitis can spread from the bladder to the kidneys, and a kidney infection is a serious condition that can lead to permanent kidney damage. For this reason, it’s crucial that you visit your doctor at the first sign of a cystitis infection.
Antibiotics Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics for infectious cystitis, which will relieve symptoms quickly and clear the infection usually within a week. Any antibiotics will destroy not only the unhealthy bacteria in your system, but the healthy ones, too. So, be aware that you’ll need to take extra probiotic supplements to replenish stocks.