Interstitial Cystitis

What is Interstitial Cystitis?

Interstitial cystitis is a condition that affects the bladder. It is often also referred to as painful bladder disorder. The bladder is the organ that stores urine until it is expelled from the body. Its functions and actions are controlled nerves and muscles that surround the organ.

When a person suffers from interstitial cystitis, it means that there is a disruption in the signals sent via the nervous system. The result is a chronic condition that causes a person to feel pain or pressure on the bladder. Interstitial cystitis causes a wide variety of symptoms and often varies in severity from mild to severe. It is also quite disruptive to a person’s life when they feel a constant need to urinate or pain associated with urination.

Interstitial cystitis may have numerous causes. However, those exact causes have not been determined. There may be defects in the bladder itself, like the epithelial lining of the organ that could contribute to the development of the condition, for example. It is also possible that it has to do with something in a person’s urine that could cause irritation or the immune system malfunctions and attacks the bladder or associated systems.

What are the Symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis?

There are many symptoms associated with interstitial cystitis. The primary symptom of this condition is having an urgent need to urinate which can disrupt sleep, work, or other elements of life. Pressure and pain in the bladder can be constant or may only occur as the bladder fills up.

General abdominal pain, lower back pain, or pelvic region could also be a sign of interstitial cystitis. Women with the condition could experience pain during sexual intercourse while men could experience pain after sex or when they have an orgasm.

Interstitial Cystitis Causes

There doesn’t appear to be a single, defined cause of interstitial cystitis (IC). Unlike normal cystitis which is usually caused be a bacterial bladder infection, the interstitial type isn’t caused by infection and antibiotics are ineffective in treating it.

One theory is that people with IC have a defect in the lining of the bladder. This could allow irritants in urine to penetrate the bladder walls and cause inflammation and pain. It’s also thought that the contents of urine itself could be different in people with IC and this could irritate and damage the bladder.

Some experts believe that IC is related to the immune system and allergies. People with the condition might have abnormal mast cells which release chemicals to attack healthy bladder tissues in the way they would attack infection.

It’s also possible that people with IC have abnormally sensitive nerves in the bladder or issues with nerve signals which make normal bladder sensations abnormally painful or uncomfortable.

IC is often experienced alongside other symptoms and conditions, which suggests that it could be a symptom of a more complex syndrome.

In these instances, potential causes could be:

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Lupus

How is Interstitial Cystitis Treated?

Prescription and some over-the-counter medications can help to treat the symptoms of interstitial cystitis. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen can help with the pain a person experiences while antihistamines may help with the urge to urinate. Prescription medications may be able to help treat problems in the bladder that may have caused the condition.

Alternatively, nerve stimulation treatments, bladder distension (expanding the bladder), or surgery could all help to treat interstitial cystitis.

Interstitial Cystitis Prevention

Unfortunately there is no known way to completely prevent interstitial cystitis, but it may be possible to manage the condition and prevent symptoms by making some lifestyle changes.

Firstly, diet should be addressed since certain foods are known to irritate the bladder and make IC symptoms worse.

This includes:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus fruits
  • Coffee
  • Spicy foods
  • Tomatoes

Other foods may also be irritants to people with IC, but different people have different reactions to different food types. For this reason, it can be helpful to follow the elimination diet, in which you remove all potential irritating foods for a short time, then gradually reintroduce foods to see which ones trigger IC symptoms.

Limiting stress can also help with the management of IC since many people find heir symptoms flare up during times of emotional stress. Find ways to cope with stressful periods, perhaps by doing exercise, adopting a relaxing hobby, or taking time away from work. Seeking therapy or counseling may be particularly helpful for those who come up against severe emotional trauma, such as the loss of a loved one.

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Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
March 08, 2018