Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a complex condition that is
identified by chronic inflammation of the bladder muscle layers, which produces
the following symptoms:
- pelvic and abdominal pain and pressure
- frequent urination
- urgency (feeling like you need to urinate, even
right after urinating)
- incontinence (accidental leakage of urine)
Discomfort can range from a mild burning sensation to severe
pain. The degree of discomfort can be persistent or infrequent, and some people
have periods of remission.
According to the Interstitial
Cystitis Association, IC affects more than 12 million people in the United
States. Women are much most likely to develop IC, but children and adult men
can get it as well.
IC is also known as painful bladder syndrome (PBS), bladder pain
syndrome (BPS), and chronic pelvic pain (CPP).
You may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- chronic or intermittent pain in the pelvis
- pelvic pressure or discomfort
- urinary urgency (feeling that you need to
- frequent urination day and night
- pain during sexual intercourse
Your symptoms may vary from day to day, and you may experience
periods when you are symptom-free. Symptoms may worsen if you develop a urinary
The exact cause of IC is not known, but researchers postulate
that several factors may damage the lining of the bladder and therefore trigger
the disorder. These include:
- trauma to the bladder lining (e.g. from surgical
- excessive stretching of the bladder, usually due
to long periods without a bathroom break
- weakened or dysfunctional pelvic floor muscles
- autoimmune disorders
- repeated bacterial infections
- hypersensitivity or inflammation of pelvic
- spinal cord trauma
Many people with IC also have irritable bowel syndrome or
fibromyalgia. Some researchers believe that IC may be part of a generalized
inflammatory disorder that affects multiple organ systems. Researchers
are also investigating the possibility that people may inherit a genetic
predisposition to IC. Although it is not common, IC has been reported to
afflict blood relatives. Cases have been seen in mother and daughter, as well
as in two or more sisters.
Research is ongoing to determine the cause of IC and to develop
more effective treatments.
There are no tests that can be used to make a definitive
diagnosis of IC. Therefore, many cases of IC go undiagnosed. Because IC shares
many of the same symptoms of other bladder disorders, your doctor will need to
rule these out first. These other disorders include:
You will be diagnosed with IC once your doctor determines that
your symptoms are not due to one of these disorders.
IC can cause several complications, including:
- reduced bladder capacity due to stiffening of
the bladder wall
- lower quality of life as a result of frequent
urination and pain
- barriers to relationships and sexual intimacy
- issues with self-esteem and social embarrassment
- sleep disturbances
- anxiety and depression
There is no cure or definitive treatment for IC. Most people use
a combination of treatments, and you may have to try several approaches before
you settle on the therapy that provides the most relief. IC treatments may
Your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following drugs to
help improve your symptoms:
- pentosanpolysulfate sodium (Elmiron), which has been approved by
the Food and Drug Administration to treat IC. Doctors do not know exactly how
pentosan works, but it may help repair tears or defects in the bladder wall. You
should not take pentosan if you are pregnant or are planning to become
anti-inflammatories, including ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, and
others, for pain and inflammation
- tricyclic antidepressants (e.g. amitriptyline) to help
relax your bladder and block pain
- antihistamines (e.g.
Claritin) to decrease urinary urgency and frequency
Bladder distention is a procedure that stretches the bladder
using water or gas. It can help relieve symptoms in some people, possibly by
increasing the capacity of the bladder and by interrupting pain signals
transmitted by nerves in the bladder. It can take two to four weeks to notice
improvement in your symptoms.
Bladder instillation involves filling the bladder with a solution
sulfoxide (Rimso-50), also called DMSO. The DMSO solution is held in the
bladder for 10 to 15 minutes before it is emptied. One treatment cycle
typically includes up to two treatments per week for six to eight weeks, and
the cycle can be repeated as needed.
It is thought that the DMSO solution may reduce inflammation of
the bladder wall. It may also prevent muscle spasms that cause pain, frequency,
Electrical Nerve Stimulation
electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) delivers mild electrical pulses through
the skin to stimulate the nerves to the bladder. TENS may help relieve symptoms
by increasing blood flow to the bladder, strengthening pelvic muscles that help
control the bladder, or triggering the release of substances that block pain.
Many people with IC discover that specific foods and beverages
make their symptoms worse. Common foods that may worsen IC include:
- anything with caffeine
- acidic foods like citrus fruits and juices
Your doctor will help you to determine if you are sensitive to
any foods or beverages.
Although there is no proven correlation between smoking and IC,
smoking is definitely linked to bladder cancer. It is possible that quitting
smoking may lessen or relieve your symptoms.
Maintaining an exercise routine may help you manage your
symptoms. You may have to modify your routine, so that you avoid high impact
activity that causes flares. Try some of these workouts:
- Tai Chi
- Low-impact aerobics or Pilates
A physical therapist can teach you exercises that will strengthen
your bladder and pelvic muscles. Talk to your doctor about meeting with a
Techniques designed to lengthen the time between urinating may
help relieve symptoms. Your doctor can discuss these techniques with you.
Learning to deal with life’s stresses and the stress of having IC
may provide symptom relief. Meditation and biofeedback may be helpful.
There are several surgical options to increase the size of the
bladder and remove or treat ulcers in the bladder. Surgery is rarely used and
is considered only when symptoms are severe and other treatments have failed to
provide relief. Your doctor will discuss these options with you if you are a
candidate for surgery.
There is no cure for IC. It can last for years or even a lifetime.
The main goal of treatment is to find the combination of therapies that best provides
long-term symptom relief.