Smorgasbord Health Column – Family Health – Bacterial and Interstitial Cystitis – Causes and Treatments by Sally Cronin

Over the last posts I have focused on our kidneys and the urinary tract. Apart from kidney stones, cystitis is one of the most common conditions both men and women experience related to this system in the body.

Many people are misdiagnosed with the wrong type of cystitis and this has a direct effect on their treatment and recovery. Bacterial cystitis and Interstitial cystitis are easily confused so it is important to understand the differences and seek the correct medical diagnosis.

What Is Bacterial Cystitis?

Bacterial cystitis is an inflammation of the bladder caused by an infection that has developed either from external sources or within the urine itself.

It can affect both men and women, although it is more common in women due to the proximity of the urethra to the external reproductive organs. Bacteria can be introduced in a number of ways and also be the by-product of certain processes within the body.

  • Poor hygiene is one of the main causes and in women it is always important to wipe front to back so that bacteria in faecal matter does not enter the vagina or the urinary tract.
  • An enlarged prostate in men, or enlarged womb due to pregnancy or fibroids in women, can put pressure on the bladder, preventing it from emptying completely. The bottom of the bladder bulges down below the level of the opening of the urethra and urine collects in these pockets. It is a warm and moist environment, which is perfect for bacterial growth, which in turn leads to infection.
  • Kidney or bladder stones can also prevent the bladder from emptying completely.
  • Birth defects in the urinary system can cause a physical abnormality that prevents the bladder from emptying completely.
  • During sexual intercourse bacteria can enter the urinary system in both men and women. Sexually transmitted diseases such as Chlamydia produce similar symptoms to cystitis especially among sexually active young men and women and are often ignored. This will lead to increased bacterial infections of the urinary tract.
  • Chemicals in bath or personal hygiene products can result in irritations and inflammation that leads to bacterial infection. Make sure they are fragrance free.
  • Repeated use of catheters may result in damage to the urinary tract allowing bacteria to flourish.
  • One result of our fixation about not sitting down in public toilets is that women are not completely emptying their bladders in the crouched position. This prevents all the urine from leaving the bladder and can result in an infection.
  • Hormonal changes in women in middle age can result in frequent bacterial infections.
  • The urine of a diabetic tends to contain a great deal of sugar, which again provides a perfect environment for bacterial growth. It can also cause poor bladder function allowing urine to accumulate providing a breeding ground for germs.
  • Candida Albicans sufferers also tend to have elevated yeast and sugar levels and are prone to frequent attacks of bacterial cystitis. Because antibiotics are prescribed for this type of cystitis it becomes a vicious cycle increasing the level of attacks as any good bacteria as well as the harmful type are killed off and the body becomes more and more unprotected.

The effects of bacterial cystitis

This is one of the most painful and debilitating urinary tract infections and effects many areas of a sufferer’s life.

The pain and frequency of urination make it impossible to sleep, work effectively or carry on a sexual relationship. The body and the mind becomes tired and stressed and within a very short time it has an incredibly debilitating effect on the whole body.

The impact of urinary tract infections on the elderly.

It is quite common for elderly men and women to suffer from urinary tract infections, and I have had experience of the misery this can cause with my own mother. This is especially likely if at some point they have had to use catheters either in hospital or permanently due to urinary tract damage or inefficiency.

The symptoms of a urinary tract infection are very similar to those associated with the early onset of dementia. Confusion, rambling, forgetfulness and the inability to voice the symptoms accurately. Since a UTI is very common I would always advise that if you notice that an elderly person is showing these symptoms that you take them to the doctor with a urine sample and ask for it to be tested for an infection.

That is usually done at the surgery as a dip stick test which indicates the presence of bacteria but it is not specific which results in a prescription for a broad spectrum anti-biotic or one that is not targeted at a particular bacteria. So if an infection is indicated request that the sample be sent off to the laboratory for the bacteria to be identified and then specific antibiotics to be prescribed.

The natural approach

  • Apart from making sure that you do not introduce bacteria into your urinary system when you go to the toilet you should also make sure that you wash your hands regularly to prevent cross contamination from other bacterial sources.
  • Tight and restrictive underwear can also promote a breeding ground for bacteria that can pass into the urinary tract so change regularly and for women wearing a pad that can be changed several times per day can help reduce this risk.
  • It is important that everyone has a healthy diet to prevent illnesses but this is particularly important for anyone suffering from bacterial cystitis. You need plenty of antioxidants, in fresh fruit and vegetables, to boost your immune system and to prevent free radical damage to the cells in the urinary tract that might lead to infection.
  • Take regular exercise as this too will help to build your immune system.
  • It is vitally important that you drink plenty of fluids to flush out your system– frequently taking harmful toxins out of the body in the urine.
  • Water is excellent but drinking cranberry juice may also be very effective. I briefly covered the benefits of cranberries in the last post and it does help prevent bacteria from attaching themselves to the soft tissue in the bladder and causing an infection. Buy the reduced sugar varieties or make your own from fresh cranberries.
  • Some people find relief from drinking a coconut water and spinach smoothie – Find a coconut water without additives..
  • Reduce the sugar in your diet dramatically so that you are not creating the perfect environment for bacteria in the first place.
  • Change over to using savoury toppings for toast for example or use a fresh banana.
  • Avoid all processed foods such as canned sauces, bakery products and baked beans that tend to have very high sugar contents.

Treatments that might help

If it is an emergency then you may find that taking some bicarbonate of soda in some warm water will help reduce the acidity in the urine and the more severe symptoms of the attack.

You can buy over the counter cystitis treatments and they are effective for the short term and usually contain an alkaline agent similar to bicarbonate of soda and cranberry.

Go to the doctor if the symptoms persist for more than 24-hours, as it is important that the bacterial infection in the bladder does not travel to the kidneys and cause a more serious problem.

What is interstitial cystitis?

Interstitial cystitis is a chronic condition affecting the walls of the bladder. It is not caused by bacteria and does not therefore respond to antibiotics. Although this type of cystitis more commonly affects women, men too can also develop the problem.

There is no specific set of symptoms for interstitial cystitis, which is why it can be hard to diagnose, but it certainly has some very devastating effects on a sufferer’s life.

In severe cases a sufferer will need to go to the toilet up to 60 times in a day. The urgency of the need to urinate is usually accompanied by severe pain in the abdominal, urethra or vaginal areas. This is reflected in similar pain when a sufferer attempts sexual intercourse. The only time there is mild relief is when the bladder is being emptied which is of course the opposite to bacterial cystitis.

This constant need to urinate means that going out of the house has to be planned meticulously, to ensure that there are bathrooms available. Sleep is completely disrupted, as is work, and it is virtually impossible to conduct a social life. Usually severe sufferers end up housebound, depressed, extremely fatigued and isolated. Since there is no medical treatment people tend to adopt a more and more restrictive diet in the belief that certain foods may cause the problem. Their general health then deteriorates over a period of time and they become prone to other infections and illnesses.

There are some theories as to the cause of interstitial cystitis including referred pain from muscle spasms that are reflected in the bladder or urethra. Also there is a strong link to yeast infection, as opposed to bacterial infection, which would make sense, as sufferers of both types of cystitis are likely to be suffering from Candida Albicans.

There would also, therefore, logically be a link to intolerances or allergies to certain foods. This is where not only would I advise a natural, sugar free diet for both kinds of cystitis but would also recommend that foods be rotated every four or five days to prevent a build-up of the allergens. The body can usually cope with moderate amounts of toxins and eliminate them effectively but if you are eating a particular food every day the body cannot manage to do so.

The body needs to be strong to fight infections but in some severe cases it may be that the sufferer needs to undertake a closely supervised elimination diet. This would mean starting with the basics including plenty of fluids, fresh fruit and vegetables and brown rice for a period of time to determine if the symptoms improve. If they do then other foods can be introduced slowly, over a period of weeks, to see if any culprits emerge as the cause of the problem.

You may find that doctors are unsympathetic to interstitial cystitis. If antibiotics won’t fix it then it can sometimes be labelled psychosomatic and you do need to insist on seeing an urologist and determine if there is a physical cause for your symptoms. At the same time, ensure that you are doing everything you can to improve diet and lifestyle to eliminate other reasons for the condition.

Next week I will be sharing the foods that may help maintain healthy kidneys and urinary tract..

©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2021

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-three years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines, radio programmes and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here::Sally’s books and reviews


Thanks for visiting and I am always delighted to receive your feedback.. stay safe Sally.


Next week I will post a healthy eating programme for the kidneys and the urinary tract but in the meantime I would suggest that you take a good look at all the food you have eaten in the last week and estimate how much sugar you have in your diet that may be causing you to suffer health issues. 

15 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health Column – Family Health – Bacterial and Interstitial Cystitis – Causes and Treatments by Sally Cronin

  1. I know of a person who suffered with interstitial cystitis for years. After trying several alternative therapies, she finally had to have her bladder removed and urine collects in a bag. There are doctors who specialize in the treatment of interstitial cystitis.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Smorgasbord Health Column – Family Health – Bacterial and Interstitial Cystitis – Causes and Treatments by Sally Cronin – DEEZ – News about Art, Books & more

  3. Thank you for all of this great education about our bladder and kidneys. My mom was recently in a rehab facility with a tentative diagnosis of dementia — and at our request was tested for a UTI, since someone else had told us about how an untreated UTI can cause one to behave erratically. And yes, she had a UTI and was treated for it and became much more lucid again. It is AMAZING how inter-related the different parts and processes of our bodies are…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Weekly Round Up – 1st -7th August 2021 | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

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