Starting Uni was meant to be the beginning of the rest of my life. I was based in a new area of the country, studying the subject I’d always wanted (Psychology). I looked forward to making the lasting friends I hadn’t up until this point. Life should have been perfect.
Then I was hit by a series of strange, discomfiting symptoms.
Constantly needing the toilet. It was ridiculous- I could have just been, yet a quarter of an hour later I had to go again. A horrible painful stinging, which persisted no matter what I did. I thought perhaps I was allergic to my fabric conditioner, so changed it, but to no avail. I was convinced my new flatmates thought I was weird because I kept having to dash off all the time.
If it’d happened the once, it wouldn’t have been so bad. Yet my unknown bane flared up throughout my undergrad career, causing me to wonder if it was stress related. Perhaps you’re wondering why I never went to a doctor, but it seemed such a trivial problem, even while it was wrecking my life. Far from being a paradise of sexual excess, I can count the number of times I had sex during my Uni years on one hand. Most of the time it was too painful.
My last few months at Uni, I was online, killing time. My mysterious condition was back, complete with itchy soreness and cloudy, discoloured urine. Really fed up by this time, I looked it up- I can’t remember the exact search term. Within seconds I was reading an article that could have been written about me. At last my enemy had a name. Cystitis.
What is cystitis?
As its NHS page explains, cystitis is inflammation of the bladder. It’s normally caused by an infection, yet frequent sources are irritation (using strong washing powders/shower gels) or damage (since it’s regularly caused by sex, some wag once nicknamed it ‘the honeymooner’s disease). Despite the fact there seems to be little to no discussion of it, it’s an extremely common condition- it’s estimated that 1 in 3 women will have had one bout by the time they’re 24 years old.
Although men can and do suffer from cystitis, it’s overwhelmingly a feminine illness. The culprit seems to be the woman’s shorter urethra- that is, the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body. Since the urethra is located extremely close to the anus, bacteria from the anus can easily reach the urethra, leading to an infection.
Certain types of women seem more prone to infections. As mentioned previously, poor personal hygiene is sometimes a factor- make sure you always wipe from front to back when you go to the toilet, using separate tissues! Being sexually active significantly raises your chances of contracting it- not only are bacteria more likely to get into your bladder during sex, sex itself can bruise your urethra and bladder, causing cystitis-like symptoms. Pregnancy comes with attendant difficulties: the extra pressure on your womb may prevent your bladder from emptying fully, making a breeding ground for bacteria.
Lastly, if you have diabetes or you’re postmenopausal, you’re likelier to contract cystitis. While the high sugar content of a diabetic’s urine encourages bacteria to grow, postmenopausal women have smaller amounts of certain hormones, lowering the body’s natural defences to infection.
What should you do?
A mild cystitis attack generally lasts between 4-9 days. It may be treated in a variety of ways: drinking large amounts of water (between 1.2 litres a day) and taking painkillers such as paracetomal. If you’re suffering from a more severe case, your GP will put you on a course of antibiotics.
Many sufferers have their pet remedies- cranberry juice seems to be the one thing that’s universally agreed upon, yet nobody seems to know where this came from! Read this Daily Mail article for further alternative remedies.
At the end of Uni I mustered up the courage to visit my GP. She didn’t seem able to provide a reason for my regular attacks- I wasn’t particularly promiscuous, I had good personal hygiene, I didn’t seem to match their criteria. The antibiotics actually worsened my symptoms. I despaired.
It was then I discovered Angela Kilmartin’s website. The leading expert on cystitis, she offers a range of informative books and DVDs on the topic, explaining how you can not only prevent but permanently banish this painful, debilitating illness from your life. It doesn’t matter what your age is or how often you have suffered from the condition, she will have a programme in place to help you. I admit initial scepticism, but after investigating further, have been won over to her methods. Having suffered herself, she knows how frustrating it can be when doctors misdiagnose or refuse to acknowledge the severity of the issue.
It makes me angry that so many years of my life were wasted, but thanks to Angela, I’ve managed to put those behind me. I’m now studying for a MA, enjoying the Uni experience I should have had the first time around!
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