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Bacterial cystitis (BC)

Bacterial cystitis (BC) occurs when bacteria outside the body enters the urinary tract through the urethra and begins to multiply, causing a UTI. Most cases of cystitis are caused by a type of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria.

BC can occur in women for the following reasons:

  • Women have a shorter urethra than men, which is situated closer to their anus
  • Movements during intercourse push bacteria up into the bladder or there is slight damage to the urethra, which encourages bacteria to thrive (this is more likely if the vagina is dry)
  • Diaphragms are used with spermicides which can kill off the protective bacteria in the vagina, as well as change its pH balance
  • During pregnancy there’s pressure from the uterus, resulting in incomplete emptying of the bladder
  • Hormonal changes occur during menopause, resulting in changes to normal vaginal flora

BC can occur in both women and men for the following reasons:

  • Catheters infect or damage the urethra or bladder
  • Poor bladder emptying results in residual urine that leads to an increased amount of bacteria
  • The urine of diabetics that contain a lot of sugar encourages bacteria to grow
  • Kidney stones block the ureter or urethra causing severe pain or a UTI
  • There are abnormalities in the urinary system
  • A parasite is present (in people who have spent time in North Africa or the Middle East)
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea

There are also some conditions that can cause ‘cystitis-like’ symptoms in men (usually over 50), such as prostate infection or other issues with the urinary tract.

Recurrent bacterial cystitis (RBC)

Recurrent bacterial cystitis (RBC) is characterised by repeated episodes of UTIs. If you have had two proven infections in six months or three in a year it can be considered RBC.

RBC occurs as a consequence of reinfection by different bacteria, or more commonly, persistence of the same bacteria. Some women are more prone to recurrent infection than others, without any apparent reason why, as there seems to be no obvious problem with the bladder or immune system. It may be linked to a damaged bladder lining, or, a slight variation in the body's defence mechanism may tip the balance in favour of bacteria causing infection more often (in the same way some people are more prone to colds). It has been suggested that people who get more UTIs can suffer from greater damage to the bladder lining.

Find out more about bacterial cystitis symptoms and treatment