Seriously uncomfortable, cystitis and kidney infections can make you feel miserable for days. So what’s the best way of getting rid? Our doctors tell all …

Cystitis and kidney infections

Cystitis and kidney infections can cause many uncomfortable symptoms and make you feel miserable for several days. The vast majority of kidney infections affect women; if a man has symptoms suggestive of a kidney infection, then this requires careful assessment and investigation. For women however, it’s a more common problem but one which needs to be properly treated to prevent potentially serious long-term effects. Prior to the antibiotic era (before the 1940s), kidney infections could cause kidney failure or they could develop into long term kidney damage requiring surgical removal of the kidney. Thankfully, this is very rare nowadays.

Q. Why do women get kidney infections?

A. In very many cases, kidney infections can occur in the 24 to 48 hours after sexual activity. This is because the female urethra (which is a delicate tube) runs in the roof of the vaginal muscle and opens just above the vagina in the vulva. There are a range of bacteria present on this area and so it is not sterile. So, during intercourse it’s easy for this area to get a bit damaged and for a few of the bacteria found in this area to get pushed into the urethra. Once inside the water passage, the bacteria divide every 20 minutes so that within 24 to 48 hours, there are enough to cause an infection.

Q. How can I reduce the risk of this happening?

A. The first thing to do is to have a pee just before intercourse as this ‘flushes out’ the delicate urethra (or water passage) and cuts down on the numbers of bacteria present. Repeat this after intercourse is finished to again reduce the numbers of bacteria. Sometimes despite taking these precautions, enough bacteria still get in to start causing symptoms so the ‘first aid’ measures you can use are to start drinking cranberry juice. While this doesn’t kill the bacteria, it changes the chemistry of the urine which stops the bacteria multiplying. The other measure is to drink litres of water which flushes out the bacteria and so prevent them causing the infection.

Q. Is there any medicines I could try as well?

A. There are also over the counter (without a prescription) medicines available such as Cymalon Sachets which act in a fashion similar to the cranberry juice and can help to stop the infection developing. Again, it’s essential to take litres of fluids with these to flush out the bacteria. Ideally these measures should be started at the first sign of any cystitis-type symptoms for the best chance of preventing an infection.