27 April 2017
Picture the scene: I’m about 7 or 8 years old, whimpering my way to the school office because yet again I can’t pee and yet again I feel like I’m about to burst, and as I reach the window hatch and catch the receptionist’s attention, I manage to mumur: “my minny hurts, I’m constipated.” Cue a confused expression and prolonged gaze from the receptionist, before she beckoned me through to the glorious reception waiting room whilst she phoned my Mum. Of course, what I meant by constipation, I would later learn was cystitis.
Here’s the scientific bit: cystitis is a urinary tract infection (often referred to as a UTI). As defined by NHS.uk, urinary tract infections are “common infections that can affect the bladder, the kidneys and the tubes connected to them”, most frequently the urethra, which is the tube that frees the pee from your body. Women suffer more frequently with UTIs because their urethra is shorter and closer to their butt, which means it’s easier for bacteria to get right on in there and settle into an infection. Common symptoms of a UTI are: the unbearable urge to pee but not actually passing any urine; a burning, stinging pain when urine does pass which can often feel like shards of glass being pushed out; cloudy, strongly-coloured pee which may contain blood and general, all-round shittiness because every ounce of you is aware of the pain downstairs.
Cystitis has plagued my life since primary school. I’ve had doctors conducting internal exams on my 7 year old vageen, an ultrasound, blood tests and innumerable doctor’s appointments, so at this point, it’s fair to say I’m well versed in dealing with cystitis once it strikes. Unfortunately there isn’t much in the medical department that can be done to prevent frequent cystitis, but there are some measures you can take to lessen the risk. As a self-proclaimed cystitis representative, I’m here today to run you through the dos and don’ts of caring for your UTI-prone vagina, and more importantly, tips for dealing with cystitis once you already have it.
FYI - This post has been illustrated by the babe that is Lauren Johnstone. Shop her fabulousness here.
Cranberry Juice & Cranberry Capsules
CRANBERRY JUICE DOES NOT GET RID OF THE INFECTION ONCE IT IS ALREADY THERE. Phew, okay, just had to get that off my chest. If cystitis regularly comes to visit in urethra-town, you’ll be accustomed to hearing the same ill-informed advice time and time again, and often that comes in the form of “oh, you should drink some cranberry juice, I've heard that helps.” Once you have cystitis, there is shit all that cranberry juice can do to shift it, and whilst cranberry capsules and the juice itself have historically been linked to helping prevent the onset of UTIs, there’s very little solid evidence that proves it’s any good for that either. From my own experience, cranberry juice is pretty much useless and is just a dose of unwanted sugar in a time where water would work wonders.
Uncleanliness is the cause
You could have the cleanest vagina in the world and still catch a UTI. Cystitis has nothing to do with how clean you are - rather, it seems, it’s more to do with your genetics (does your Momma get it?), how much you're shagging (honeymoon cystitis is a legit thing) and just how short and close to your butt your urethra is. A lot of girls can go on a shagathon and never feel a twinge, whereas I can have one afternoon roll-around and suffer for three days straight. Lucky, eh?
Empty your bladder before and after sex
This is the absolute classic of all cystitis prevention tips. If you really want to do your best to avoid a bout of the old familiar, then make sure you are peeing before and after sex. Admittedly, this does disrupt the moment somewhat - there’s nothing like being caught up in a steamy snog and having to interrupt to say, “ooh, wait, let me just pop to the toilet”. If you’re rolling around with the boyfriend then he’d be a dick to not understand, but if you’re hooking up with someone new and wanting to retain an air of mystery, just ask if you can go and “freshen up”, then run the tap whilst you pee to your heart’s delight. Swill a bit of mouth wash round and he’ll just think you’ve been brushing your teeth instead of desperately evading a UTI. After sex, U. GOT. TO. PEE. Girl, you ain’t sleeping, u peeing, and if you can have a shower, even better. It’s crucial to flush out any bacteria that could be potentially setting up shop, and the only way to do this properly is to urinate (sorry, a swipe with a baby wipe won’t cut it!).
Have your partner wash downstairs before you get down to it
UTIs are caused by bacteria hanging around where they shouldn’t be, so it makes sense to ask your partner to have a quick wash downstairs to make sure everything is as clean as possible. This doesn’t have to be a 25 minute full-body scrub - honestly, just a dick-dip in the sink will do.
DO. NOT. DOUBLE. DIP.
And by double dip, I mean go anywhere near the butt area and then return to the vagina if you want any hope of a happy, cystitis-free life. Many cases of cystitis are actually caused by bacteria from the butt, so as a side-note, another tip is to always wipe front-to-back (if you’re a contortionist and you can bend your arm that way, that is - I literally never do this but it is good advice). Nonetheless, you don’t want any of the nasties from back there finding their way into your urethra or bladder, so if you’re considering some action in the butt area, save this for last.
Stock up on pH balancing feminine washes
Make sure you avoid using anything heavily perfumed downstairs and opt for pH balancing feminine care instead. FemFresh is my personal favourite brand, and they have lots of different options available, from cranberry-infused washes (pointless but I appreciate the nod to us cystitis sufferers), to shaving gels and even rescue creams that are all safe to use on your vageen. I keep my bathroom stocked up with these washes and use them every time I shower, but it might be worth just grabbing a bottle if you feel like you’re due a cystitis session or you’re in for a shagathon anytime soon. They cost about £2-£3 quid and they last quite a while, so they’re well worth picking up.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU HAVE CYSTITIS
So the likelihood is that you’ve come to this article already suffering with cystitis, and you’re sitting on the toilet or curled up in bed, wondering what in holy hell you can do to save yourself from this misery.
The truth is - and don’t hate me for it - unless you have antibiotics on your person right now, there’s pretty much fuck all at your disposal. The cranberry sachets help to ease the pain so don’t overlook these by any means, and drink as much water as you can possibly stomach (avoid caffeine and alcohol at all costs), but unfortunately it’s more of a waiting game.
It’s shit, I know, but entertain yourself with distractions (hey, this blog has some pretty fancy content…) and book yourself in at the doctors ASAP. Make sure to ask for a 7 day course of antibiotics - you only need three, but getting 7 will mean you always have some for emergency flare ups and you don’t have to pay a prescription fee twice.
Now, if you’re suffering, here are some things to distract you:
- - Download an old school game and go to town. The Sims 4 and Rollercoaster Tycoon are relatively cheap, or you can go for Theme Hospital (https://www.gog.com/game/theme_hospital) which is only a fiver! And yes, you can play all of them on Macs too. Apps for your phone are also handy great because the games are easy to play and quick to get into - no waiting around for a long installation. Go crazy.
- - Paint your nails. Who has the time to do this normally? If you’re sitting on the toilet, you might as well make use of your free hands. Plus it’s so fucking boring that you might find it lulls you that one step closer to sleep.
- - Watch something short and lighthearted. 5 minutes feels like forever when you’re suffering with cystitis, so for me, trying to get stuck into to an hour long, slow burning drama on Netflix is a no-go. Instead, I’ll pop on something like Bobs Burgers, Rick and Morty or South Park, all of which are super short episodes and all funny as fuck. Dealing with your distraction in 20 minute chunks will make the whole ordeal feels like less of a lifetime stretch in prison.
- - Indulge in some retail therapy from the comfort of your bed - or, er, your toilet. Most things I try to do whilst I’m suffering with cystitis feel pointless, boring and annoying. No I don’t want to read a fucking book and no I don’t want to “try and sleep” because trust me, I’d be doing that already. One thing that never gets boring, however, is shopping. Whilst retail therapy can’t soothe your symptoms, it’s certainly something that you can get stuck into and distract yourself.
- - Have a bath or a shower. There's much debate surrounding the bath v. shower benefits when you're suffering with cystitis. No matter the arguments, I prefer a bath and always have. Avoid any perfumey bubble baths/oils and stick to good old water. The temperature helps to soothe the pain and laying down helps me to relax. Regardless of which one you choose, the truth is that if you can manage to squeeze out a little bit of wee, you can go in both.