Cystitis in men: Everything you need to know

Overall, cystitis is much more common in women than it is in men and is generally no cause for concern. Sometimes, however, men can get it too. And, generally speaking, cystitis in men is no different than cystitis in women or even children. The only thing that’s often different between genders is the root cause for the infection. For men, this will often be an underlying medical problem that should be investigated further. But what does cystitis even mean? In simple terms, it means that your bladder is infected which can happen because of bacteria, irritation, or trauma to your urinary tract. But let’s look at it in a little more detail.

Symptoms

Essentially, the symptoms for cystitis in men are exactly the same as they are for women. So, if you experience any of the following, a trip to your GP might be sensible.

  • Having difficulty going for a pee
  • Having to pee more urgently
  • Having to pee more often with only little amounts coming out every time you go
  • A burning or tingling sensation when you go pee
  • Cloudy and strong-smelling urine

If your cystitis is particularly bad, you also experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Pain in your pelvis
  • Bloody urine
  • A low-grade fever
  • A general feeling of fatigue

Who is more at risk of getting cystitis?

In the grand scheme of things, men don’t really have a very high risk of developing cystitis at all. This is mostly due to the anatomy of their reproductive system. What does that even mean? It simply means that the entrance to the urethra is much further away from the anus as it is for women so the transfer of bacteria from one to the other doesn’t happen as easily. The urethra itself is also much longer which, again, makes it harder for bacteria to actually travel all the way into the bladder. However, there are several things that make men more prone to developing a bladder infection. These include:

  • The excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Any trauma to the urinary tract, especially the urethra or bladder
  • Problems with the prostate
  • The use of urinary catheters, especially of the indwelling variety
  • Conditions that affect the immune system like HIV or diabetes
  • An infection anywhere else in the urinary tract
  • Not being able to empty the bladder fully

But what actually causes cystitis in men?

Bacterial cystitis

Bacterial cystitis most commonly develops when bacteria from the anus is transferred to the entrance of the urethra. As we already know, this is generally not a big problem for men due to their anatomy, but it can happen. Bacteria can also be transferred into the urethra or bladder by using a urinary catheter.

Interstitial cystitis

This is also called painful bladder syndrome and it basically means that your bladder is chronically inflamed. Interstitial cystitis is generally much more common among women, but can also affect men.

Drug-induced cystitis

It’s your urinary system’s job to flush out any toxins and other unwanted substances. And sometimes, when you have been taking certain medications, this can lead to an inflammation of your bladder. This is particularly common with chemotherapy drugs like cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) and ifosfamide (Ifex).

Radiation cystitis

If you are receiving radiation therapy that is aimed at your pelvis, there’s a risk that you can get cystitis from it.

Chemical cystitis

If you’re exposed to certain chemicals on a fairly regular basis, it can lead to an allergic reaction which, in turn, can cause inflammation in your bladder. And you don’t even need to be in touch with dangerous chemicals for this happen, heavily fragranced soap or shampoo can have the same effect.

Cystitis caused by a foreign body

If you have been using a urinary catheter long-term, you are more prone to developing a bladder infection. This can either be due to infectious bacteria entering your urinary tract via your catheter or by accidentally damaging the urethral tissue which will make it more likely to get infected.

Urinary retention

If you’re not able to empty your bladder fully, there’s a much higher chance that you develop cystitis. If the bladder doesn’t empty fully, the urine that’s left in there is basically a perfect breeding ground for unwanted, infectious bacteria. What causes urinary retention? For men, it’s most often caused by an obstruction in the urinary tract like an enlarged prostate, also called benign prostatic hyperplasia. However, kidney or bladder stones can also cause issues when it comes to emptying your bladder.

Diagnosis

Cystitis in men is diagnosed fairly similarly to cystitis in women and can include a urinalysis, cystoscopy, as well as imaging scans.

  • Cystoscopy: With a cystoscopy, a thin, flexible tube with a camera and light on one end will be inserted into your urethra and moved up all the way into your bladder. This gives your doctor the possibility to check for any signs of infection and to also get a tissue sample in the process. A cystoscopy is usually done if you’ve had cystitis multiple times.
  • Urinalysis: With a urinalysis, a sample of your urine will be sent off to the lab and checked for signs of infectious bacteria. If bacteria are found, the lab might also do a urine culture to see what kind of bacteria are causing your infection and which antibiotic would be best to treat it.
  • Imaging scans: If there’s no sign of bacteria in your urine, your doctor might recommend doing an X-ray to check and see whether there’s any blockages or obstructions that might be causing your bladder infection.

Treatment

A very mild case of cystitis has every chance to clear up on its own with a little time and drinking lots of water but if your infection isn’t going away, you’ll likely get prescribed a course of oral antibiotics. If your cystitis is quite uncomfortable or even painful, you can also take some over-the-counter pain relief, like ibuprofen, to relieve those symptoms. If your cystitis is caused by an obstruction in your urinary tract, your doctor will likely work out a plan how the issue can be resolved with you. If your cystitis is caused by bacteria and there’s no obstruction to your urinary tract, you can do certain things to help the healing process. Here are some examples of what you can do:

  • Never use any fragrances or colognes directly on your penis as this can quickly cause further irritation.
  • Make sure you go for a pee right after having sex.
  • Drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water every day to stay hydrated and “flush your bladder through”.
  • Go to the toilet as soon as you feel the urge to go for a pee.
  • Wash your genitals with only warm water. If you really want to use soap, make sure it’s a very mild one that doesn’t cause any further irritation.
  • Make sure to stay as far away as possible from any coffee or alcohol while you’re experiencing symptoms of cystitis.