AustrAliAn FAmily PhysiciAn Vol. 39, no. 5, mAy 2010 295
Bacterial cystitis in
A woman presenting with symptoms suggestive of bacterial cystitis is a frequent
occurrence in the general practice setting. One in three women develop a urinary tract
infection (UTI) during their lifetime (compared to 1 in 20 men).
In this article we provide an outline of the aetiology, pathogenesis and treatment of
bacterial cystitis in the primary care setting. We suggest measures that may assist before
urological referral and work through a common clinical scenario.
Bacterial cystitis in unlikely if the urine is both nitrite and leuco-esterase negative.
Empirical antibiotics are justified if symptoms are present with positive urinary dipstick,
but microscopy, culture and sensitivity of urine is warranted to ensure appropriate empirical
therapy and identification of the causative organism. Risk factors for UTI in women include
sexual intercourse, use of contraceptive diaphragms and, in postmenopausal women,
mechanical and/or physiologic factors that affect bladder emptying such as cystocoele or
atrophic vaginitis. Discussion regarding risk factors and UTI prevention is important. Women
with recurrent UTIs (defined as three or more episodes in 12 months or two or more episodes
in 6 months) should be screened for an underlying urinary tract abnormality (ultrasound)
and may benefit from prophylactic therapy. Patients with complex or recurrent UTIs,
persistent haematuria, persistent asymptomatic bacteriuria, or urinary tract abnormalities
on imaging may benefit from referral to a urologist.
Keywords: urological diseases; general practice; women’s health; cystitis
carcinoma, bladder calculi, chemicals (ifosphamide,
cyclophosphamide) or interstitial cystitis.
inflammation of the bladder, from either infective
or noninfective causes, produces the characteristic
cystoscopic finding of squamous metaplasia (Figure
1) and may also lead to cystitis cystica (Figure 2).
About 250 000 Australians develop a uti
each year.1 Women are more commonly affected
than men; with 1 in 3 women and 1 in 20 men
developing a uti at some point during their
lifetime.2 urinary tract infections occur more
commonly in older men, especially in the presence
of lower urinary tract dysfunction. nearly 1 in 3
women develop a uti requiring treatment before
the age of 24 years.2
noninfective cystitis may be caused by urothelial
urinary tract infections may be classified as:
normal urinary tract), or
the presence of other factors listed in Table 1).
in Australia, Escherichia coli is the most common
uropathogen causing up to 95% of simple utis.3
in addition to E. coli,?complex?UTIs?may?also?
be caused by Proteus and Klebsiella species,
Enterococci, Group B Streptococci and Pseudomonas
with increased severity and complications. the
resultant treatment may be multimodal.
most utis are caused by normal bacterial flora
entering the urinary tract via ascent through the
urethra from the bowel, vagina, or perineum. it
of the organism’s virulence factors which allow
their adherence to the perineum and urethra. this
is followed by migration into the bladder with
invasion of the urothelium leading to symptoms
secondary to the inflammatory response.
Cystitis is a clinical syndrome characterised by
dysuria, frequency and urgency, with or without
suprapubic pain. Causes of cystitis can be
infective (bacterial, viral, other) or noninfective.
The commonest clinical entity is bacterial
cystitis due to common urinary tract pathogens.
Bacterial cystitis is usually associated with bacteriuria
(bacteria in the urine) and pyuria (presence of
white cells in the urine), but both can occur without
infection. Bacteriuria may be due to either colonisation
or infection of the urinary tract, or contamination
of the collected urine specimen. Pyuria indicates
inflammation, which is usually due to bacteria but can
be due to other causes. sterile pyuria requires further
investigation for tuberculosis, bladder stones, or cancer.
Bacterial cystitis in women
296 AustrAliAn FAmily PhysiciAn Vol. 39, no. 5, mAy 2010
there is innate immunity in the lower urinary tract
via the flushing out of organisms by urine as well
as entrapment of bacteria by the urethral lining.
these cells are shed in the urine leading to removal
of bacteria from the lower urinary tract. in addition,
the normal flora of healthy vaginal mucosa and
perineal area contains micro-organisms such as
lactobacilli, and an acidic ph environment, which
prevent the adherence of uropathogens. Factors
that cause urinary stasis and alter the vaginal
and perineal environment (spermicides or vaginal
atrophy) may alter these protective mechanisms.
the increased incidence of utis in women may be
attributed to urethral length, which provides an
effective barrier to bacterial ascent. the female
urethra is generally less than 5 cm compared to
the male, which is more than 15 cm.
risk factors for utis in younger women include:
Prior antibiotic use may also increase the risk of
uti by altering the normal perineal flora.
in postmenopausal women, mechanical and/
or physiologic factors that affect bladder emptying
are strong risk factors for uti. Factors associated
with uti in this age group include:
While rare, diverticular disease of the urethra
a uti. Although it may seem cost effective to treat
on history alone,8 urine culture is useful to confirm
infection and identify the causative organism. this
limits unnecessary use of antibiotics and identifies
patients who would benefit from further evaluation.
urine dipstick analysis can be used as a fast
method?of?examining?fresh?urine9 and if nitrite (with
or without leuco-esterase) positive, the patient is
likely to have a uti.
Antibiotic treatment is justified in this setting
but a midstream urine (msu) specimen should
preferably be sent for microscopy, culture and
sensitivity (mcs) to ensure appropriate empirical
therapy and identification of the causative organism.
if leuco-esterase alone is positive, a uti will be
present in 50% of patients and, depending upon
symptoms, treatment may be delayed until mcs
is performed.8 the likelihood of a uti is low if the
urine is both nitrite and leuco-esterase negative.
microscopy, culture and sensitivity of a msu
is the gold standard diagnostic test for utis, and
should be performed for most patients. Quantitative
bacteriuria of 105 colony forming units (cFu) per
ml is sufficient for a diagnosis of uti. Growth of a
single organism at lower cFus is also diagnostic.
After clinically successful treatment of uti,
required in pregnant women to ensure bacterial
clearance. Asymptomatic bacteriuria in this
population is associated with pyelonephritis and
low birth weight.10
Further investigations are not required in
premenopausal women with one or two recurrent
uncomplicated utis, as anatomical or functional
may also present with symptoms of recurrent uti.
require aggressive investigation and intervention
with urological input if surgical causes are found.
Asymptomatic bacteriuria (AsB) is the presence of
a positive urine culture in the absence of symptoms
and is more common in the elderly. recurrent
urinary tract abnormalities, such as bladder stones,
diverticulae, foreign bodies, chronic retention,
malignancy and upper tract abnormalities.
treatment and investigation of AsB is
particularly critical in:
some authors7 believe that AsB does not require
treatment in other patient groups, however,
the alternate view remains that AsB should be
treated and investigated to ensure there is no
While counterintuitive, treatment of AsB
has not been shown to improve the outcome in
patients with indwelling catheters7 or in those
who self catheterise. these patients should only
be treated if symptomatic with suprapubic pain or
signs of sepsis.
Investigation of cystitis
history and symptoms are usually adequate to
Table 1. Risk factors for complex UTI
Male child <12 years
(diabetes, renal failure)
Presence of indwelling
Upper tract calculi
Figure 1. Squamous metaplasia of the trigone
occurs in response to inflammation of the
bladder and causes the trigone to have a
white furry appearance. The condition is
benign and is associated with UTI
Figure 2. Cystitis cystica may also occur with
inflammation. It consists of small fluid filled
‘blisters’ sitting beneath the urothelium. The
cysts are formed by the liquefaction of small
islands of normal urothelium sitting within
the lamina propria. This is a benign condition
Bacterial cystitis in women
AustrAliAn FAmily PhysiciAn Vol. 39, no. 5, mAy 2010 297
urologic abnormalities are uncommon. however,
urinary tract ultrasound is indicated if seemingly
uncomplicated cystitis recurs frequently (two
episodes in 6 months or three or more episodes
in 12 months) or shows a pattern of bacterial
persistence. urinary tract ultrasound also confirms
the degree of bladder emptying by measurement of
postvoiding residual. Abnormalities on ultrasound
may require specialist evaluation and further
investigation with contrast enhanced computerised
Postmenopausal women with recurrent cystitis
pelvic organ prolapse and vaginal atrophy as these
conditions may mimic the symptoms of cystitis.
older patients with recurrent utis should also be
screened for diabetes.
microscopic haematuria often occurs with uti
and, if persistent 6 weeks following resolution
of cystitis, requires further investigation. All
patients with macroscopic haematuria require
urological evaluation if they have risk factors for
to cyclophosphamide, chemicals or radiation). in
the absence of risk factors these patients should
be monitored to ensure the haematuria has
resolved. All patients with persistent haematuria
(macroscopic or microscopic) should be referred to
a urologist with urine cytology (three specimens
on three separate days) and upper tract imaging.
A urinary tract ultrasound is an acceptable
preliminary investigation and if needed, can be
followed by contrast ct urogram or retrograde
pyelography. cystoscopy is also performed to
evaluate the urothelium of the bladder.
Women with a simple uti should be treated with
empirical first line antibiotic therapy such as
trimethoprim 300 mg orally at night for 3 days or
clavulanate) is only recommended if the organism
has shown to be susceptible.
should only be used as a second line agent when
resistance has been documented or in the presence
of P. aeruginosa.3
trimethoprim is contraindicated in pregnancy
‘history’ to aid in further treatment. continuous
twice daily, may also be helpful.15 urine alkalinsing
agents can provide symptomatic relief and may
also reduce the incidence of uti.
in the presence of atrophic vaginitis, the risk
of utis may be reduced by improving the vaginal
tissues with oestrogen replacement.16 however,
issue and beyond the scope of this article.
A sexually active woman, 25 years of age,
presents with recurrent bacterial cystitis.
This is her third episode of cystitis in 12
months. She is otherwise fit and well.
Urinary tract infection is confirmed initially
on the basis of symptomatology and dipstick
urinalysis followed by formal MCS. She has
a history of E. coli UTI sensitive to standard
antibiotics, and empirical treatment is
initiated with trimethoprim 300 mg orally
at night for 3 days.3,11 A urinary tract
ultrasound was normal.
Case study discussion
if utis occur postintercourse, then postintercourse
diaphragms should be replaced with other means
of contraception.4 if the episodes are unrelated
to intercourse it would be reasonable to start
treatment for recurrent utis. Evidence based
prophylactic regimens may reduce recurrence of
utis by up to 95% and are listed in Table 2.17
in this young woman, self start intermittent
therapy would be a reasonable option to trial for
12 months, as she has only had three infections
in 1 year. A woman with more frequent infections
may only tolerate a 6 month trial. if this fails,
months would be appropriate. there should be
a low threshold for evaluation with urinary tract
ultrasound. urological evaluation may be required
if infections persist.
the incidence of utis is high. All the evaluation
and treatment measures outlined above may
be undertaken in the general practice setting.
however, referral to a urologist is beneficial
in the setting of recurrent utis, persistent
as first line therapy. Alternatives include
A 3 day course of antibiotics is similar to
a prolonged course (5–10 days) in achieving
symptomatic cure, but is not as effective in
achieving complete bacterial eradication.12 it
is appropriate to prescribe a longer course of
antibiotics for women in whom complete bacterial
eradication is important (such as in pregnancy,
urolithiasis and in the immunocompromised) even
though prolonged treatment is associated with a
higher rate of side effects.
Adjuvant therapy with urine alkalinisers can
help alleviate the dysuric symptoms of cystitis.3
sufficient fluid intake (at least 2 l/day) is
thought to have a ‘flushing’ effect on the urinary
tract, avoiding urinary stasis and bacterial
proliferation. other factors such as good hygiene,
postcoital voiding, anterior to posterior wiping
patterns and the wearing of cotton underwear may
reduce the risk of utis. Alternatives to diaphragms
and spermicides should be considered. cranberry
products may reduce bacterial adherence and may
reduce the incidence of utis, however the optimum
is yet to be established.13 lactobacillus containing
probiotic yoghurt (either vaginal or oral) to restore
commensal vaginal flora has been proposed
women, but the data remains inconclusive and no
recommendations can be made for its use.14
Treating recurrent UTIs
Women with recurrent utis being considered for
prophylactic antibiotic therapy may benefit from a
foreign bodies. Prophylactic antibiotic regimens
for women with recurrent cystitis may reduce
recurrence by up to 95%14 (see Case study).
•? postintercourse?prophylaxis?(Table 2).
With self start therapy, a urine specimen should be
collected for mcs before the taking first antibiotic
tablet. the most practical method is to give the
patient pathology request forms to obviate the
need for an urgent appointment with a GP. the
patient then presents for review once the mcs
results are available. this ensures appropriate
antibiotic use and provides a microbiologial
Bacterial cystitis in women Download full-text
298 AustrAliAn FAmily PhysiciAn Vol. 39, no. 5, mAy 2010
haematuria, persistent AsB or in the presence
of urinary tract abnormalities on imaging. the
presence of pelvic organ prolapse, intractable
atrophic vaginitis, or severe lower urinary
tract symptoms may also be indications for
Summary of important points
be present in 50% of patients. the likelihood of
uti is low if the urine is both nitrite and leuco-
are present with positive urinary dipstick. it is
advisable that the msu specimen be sent for
mcs to ensure appropriate empirical therapy
and identification of the causative organism.
the presence of urothelial carcinoma.
for an underlying urinary tract abnormality.
require further evaluation to ensure there are
no surgical causes.
Amanda chung Bsc(med), mBBs, is a urology
registrar, Department of urology, royal Prince
Alfred hospital, new south Wales. amandashujun.
mohan Arianayagam Bsc, mBBs, is a urology
Fellow, Department of urology, Jackson memorial
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hospital and the university of miami, Florida,
united states of America
Prem rashid mBBs, FrAcGP, FrAcs(urol), PhD,
is a urological surgeon and conjoint Associate
Professor, Department of urology, Port macquarie
Base hospital and university of new south Wales
rural clinical school.
conflict of interest: Prem rashid has been a
visitor to the American medical systems (Ams)
usA manufacturing facility undertaking a
cadaveric dissection clinic and observed operative
procedures by implant urologists affiliated
with Ams. he has also acted as a consultant
for coloplast, AstraZeneca, hospira & Abbott
Pharmaceuticals. no commercial organisation
initiated or contributed to the writing of this
the authors wish to acknowledge Dr ian smith,
urology registrar, new south Wales.
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Table 2. Antibiotic recommendations for recurrent UTIs in nonpregnant adult females3,11
Amoxycillin + clavulanate
* Nitrofurantoin may have side effects that need to be considered with prolonged therapy,
such as pulmonary toxicity (interstitial pulmonary fibrosis), peripheral neuropathy (usually
beginning with lower limb parasthesiae), and hepatotoxicity (chronic active hepatitis)11