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Cystitis is a common bladder infection that causes many women pain and discomfort. Most cases are mild and treatable. However, treatment can help speed up recovery.

Learn more about the causes and symptoms of cystitis as well as the treatment options available.


Medically reviewed by Dr. Plauto Filho Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 08-10-2023

What is cystitis?

Cystitis is a type of lower urinary tract infection (UTI). It most commonly affects women. It is estimated that by the age of 24, 1 in 3 women Trusted source PubMed Government Source Database of Biomedical Research Go to source will have had at least one episode of a UTI.

1 in 3 women will have had cystitis by the age of 24.

For most people, symptoms are mild and go away without treatment. However, some get frequent bouts of the infection. 20-30% Trusted source PubMed Government Source Database of Biomedical Research Go to source of women will have frequent UTIs.

Can men get cystitis?

Men can also experience UTIs but it is more uncommon. Symptoms in men usually indicate a more serious problem such as in the prostate or kidney.

So, men should always speak to their GP if they are experiencing symptoms.

What are the types of cystitis?

There are several types of cystitis, each with its own causes and risk factors.

  • Bacterial cystitis - the most common and mild type, caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract.
  • Interstitial cystitis (painful bladder syndrome) - a chronic condition that causes pain and inflammation in the bladder. It is not caused by an infection.
  • Radiation cystitis - damage to the bladder caused by radiation in the treatment of certain cancer types, particularly pelvic cancers.
  • Chemical cystitis - bladder inflammation caused by certain chemicals in soaps, gels, spermicides and dyes.
  • Drug-induced cystitis - bladder inflammation caused by certain medicines (e.g. chemotherapy drugs).

What type you have will decide what treatment you will need.

What causes cystitis?

The most common cause of urinary tract infections is bacteria. This happens when bacteria from the anus enter the urinary tract.

Women have a shorter urethra than men, which is why women get UTIs more frequently.

Causes of bacterial cystitis

There are various ways bacteria can infect the urinary tract. The main two ways include:

  • wiping back to front after using the bathroom
  • using urinary catheters

You can also get UTIs from having sex. However, it is not considered an STI. Having sex can push bacteria up into the bladder, which can cause an infection. There is also a chance that you can spread the bacteria to your partner through sex.

Other causes of cystitis

With other types of cystitis, the causes are more varied:

  • taking certain medicines
  • conditions that make it difficult to empty your bladder (e.g. an enlarged prostate)
  • conditions that block the urinary tract (e.g. kidney stones)
  • from chemicals in soaps, spermicides, diaphragms, feminine hygiene products and bubble baths

Interstitial cystitis has no clear cause. Experts believe it could be due to problems with the pelvic floor muscles, the bladder lining or the immune system.

Risk factors for cystitis

Certain factors mean you’re more likely to get cystitis than others, such as if you:

  • have a weakened immune system (e.g. HIV)
  • have diabetes
  • are sexually active
  • are going through menopause
  • are older
  • are pregnant
  • have had a hysterectomy

What are the symptoms of cystitis?

There are four main symptoms of urinary tract infections.

  • symptoms

    Painful, burning or stinging sensation when urinating

  • symptoms

    Having to urinate more frequently and more urgently

  • symptoms

    Change in urine colour and odour (urine may be cloudy or darker in colour)

  • symptoms

    Lower stomach pain and bloating

Symptoms may appear differently in men, the elderly and young children.

For instance, children may wet the bed, feel weak or have a high temperature. Men may also experience trouble urinating, especially if they have issues with their prostate.

What is the difference between cystitis and interstitial cystitis?

Interstitial cystitis is a lifelong condition. It is not caused by a bacterial infection, unlike most UTIs.

It requires ongoing treatment and lifestyle changes, so it’s important to recognise the symptoms.

Interstitial cystitis
  • chronic cystitis
  • symptoms are ongoing
  • severe pelvic and lower abdominal pain that may spread to the genitalia
  • pain typically follows an intense sensation to pee
  • cannot be treated with antibiotics
  • symptoms can be caused by certain triggers

When should I go to the GP?

UTI symptoms can look like several other conditions, so any worrying symptoms should be seen by your doctor as soon as possible.

See your GP if:

  • you think you have a UTI and symptoms haven’t improved after 3 days
  • your symptoms have not improved after antibiotics
  • you have severe symptoms
  • you get symptoms frequently
  • you are pregnant or a man with symptoms
  • you have a high temperature, feel hot or shivery
  • the pain spreads to the back and under the ribs
  • you are feeling/being sick
  • you notice blood in your pee
  • you have not peed for a day

Some of these symptoms may be a sign of a more serious infection, like a kidney infection. Rarely, it may signal types of bladder cancer.

How can I treat cystitis?

In most mild urinary tract infections will go away on their own. However, there are things you can do to make it more comfortable, such as:

  • drinking plenty of fluids (avoiding caffeine, alcohol and sugary drinks)
  • avoiding sex
  • peeing frequently
  • holding a hot water bottle on your stomach
  • taking over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol
  • using potassium or sodium citrate sachets to relieve any burning while peeing

Some people drink cranberry juice or take cranberry products for cystitis relief. However, there is not much evidence that they are effective. They may worsen the condition due to the high sugar content in these products.

You can also take a course of antibiotics to treat the infection. The first line treatment for cystitis in women is Nitrofurantoin. It works by stopping the bacteria from spreading, which kills the infection.

The second-line treatment is Trimethoprim. It has high antibiotic resistance. So, you should only take it if you know that the strain of bacteria is sensitive to this antibiotic. To find this out, you will need to have a urine test.

Antibiotic treatment may be suitable for cystitis in pregnancy but always consult your doctor first.

How do I treat recurring UTIs?

If you find you get cystitis often, you may need a different course of treatment.

For recurrent infections, you may be prescribed a low-dose antibiotic that you take daily for up to 6 months.

If you often get cystitis after sex, your GP may recommend you take a single-dose antibiotic within 2 hours of having sex.

If you have been through menopause, a prescription treatment that may help is a vaginal oestrogen cream like Estriol. Vaginal dryness is a common complication of menopause and is a risk factor for UTIs. The cream provides direct relief for dryness and will help reduce recurrent cystitis.

How do I treat interstitial cystitis?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for IC.

A specialist may recommend prescription treatment to help relax the bladder muscles or repair the bladder lining. They may also recommend stronger painkillers.

For some, a specialist may suggest surgery if you have complications from the condition.

However, the majority of treatment is lifestyle changes. You may need to follow an interstitial cystitis-friendly diet, manage your stress and retrain your bladder.

How do I prevent cystitis?

To prevent symptoms, there are some home remedies and things you should do if you are prone to urinary tract infections.

You should Avoid
  • wipe from front to back when you go to the bathroom
  • pee as soon as possible after sex
  • drink plenty of water- so you urinate regularly during the day
  • take a shower rather than a bath because it limits cleaning products to your genitals
  • wash the skin around the vagina with water before and after sex
  • keep the genital area clean and dry
  • empty your bladder fully each time you pee
  • scented soap, bubble bath or feminine hygiene products
  • spermicide with diaphragm or condoms
  • holding in your pee for too long
  • alcoholic drinks and coffee - as they can irritate the bladder
  • sugary foods or drinks - as they can encourage bacterial growth

If you get UTIs often, these lifestyle changes will help prevent you from getting recurrent bouts.

Can I get cystitis treatment online?

You can order medication for cystitis at HealthExpress. Nitrofurantoin and Trimethoprim are available for women with UTIs.

You must complete a short, confidential medical consultation online beforehand. One of our UK-registered doctors will review your details and make sure you are suitable for treatment.

Once approved, your medication will be dispatched directly to your door with free next-day delivery.

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