Do you suffer from chronic pain in your pelvis? Do you have difficulty urinating, or feel like you need to constantly need to urinate? If this sounds familiar, you may be suffering from a common bladder condition known as interstitial cystitis. Interstitial cystitis is quite common. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, The condition may affect between 3 million and 8 million women and between 1 million and 4 million men in the United States. But, what is IC, and what symptoms should you look out for? Below we’ll examine the signs, symptoms, and treatments for interstitial cystitis.
What Is Interstitial Cystitis?
IC is a chronic bladder condition that can cause serious discomfort or pain in the bladder and surrounding areas of the abdomen. Symptoms of IC can vary from person to person, but will often involve mild discomfort, pressure, or tenderness in the pelvic area. For some, this pain can become intense, and they may struggle with urinary urgency, the sudden need to urinate, or frequency, the need to urinate more often.
IC is typically diagnosed by ruling out other conditions with similar symptoms. These can often include conditions such as kidney stones, urinary tract infections (UTIs), sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), or endometriosis.
Severe symptoms of IC can affect your day-to-day life. You may feel as though you can’t perform your daily activities or leave your home because you have to use the bathroom too often. IC can also cause pain during sexual intercourse, which can put a strain on your relationship.
IC is also known as painful bladder syndrome (PBS), bladder pain syndrome (BPS), and chronic pelvic pain (CPP). Treatment for this chronic condition often depends on your symptoms and is typically aimed at helping you better manage your condition.
Next, let’s cover the common symptoms of IC.
Symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis
As previously mentioned, the symptoms of IC can vary from person to person. That said, there are some common symptoms that most people will experience. If you believe that you are suffering from IC, it’s important to talk with your doctor for a proper diagnosis. If you have symptoms, your doctor may refer you to a urologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the urinary system.
Some of the common symptoms associated with IC may include:
- Chronic or intermittent pain in the pelvis
- Pelvic pressure or discomfort
- Urinary urgency (feeling that you need to urinate)
- Frequent urination day and night
- Pain during sexual intercourse
What Causes Interstitial Cystitis?
Researchers don’t know the exact cause of IC. Some believe that it may be caused by other conditions that cause inflammation in various organs and areas of the body. Others believe that certain autoimmune conditions may be to blame. Below are some of the most common factors that researchers believe may cause IC:
- Trauma or physical damage to the bladder
- Weakened or dysfunctional pelvic muscles
- Excessive stretching of the bladder, typically caused by long periods without bathroom breaks
- Autoimmune disorders
- Repeated bacterial infections
- Spinal cord trauma
- Hypersensitivity or inflammation of the pelvic nerves
While the link remains unclear, many people with IC also have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or fibromyalgia. Researchers believe that the inflammation caused by IC may be part of a generalized inflammatory disorder that affects multiple organs.
As with many other conditions with no known cause, researchers believe that there may be a genetic factor to IC. While not common, cases have been seen in mother and daughter as well as in two or more sisters.
Who Gets Interstitial Cystitis?
IC can occur at any age, including childhood. However, it is most common in adults. While there is no clear evidence as to why women are about twice as likely to suffer from IC than men. According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), research suggests that nearly 12% of women have symptoms of interstitial cystitis.
Treatments for Interstitial Cystitis
Currently, there is no cure for IC. Treatment for IC will vary depending on the person, their symptoms, and what advice they have been given by their doctor. Most people with this condition find success using a combination of treatments, and you may find that you have to try several before you find one that brings you the most relief. Below are some of the most common treatments for IC, starting with medications.
There are several medications that your doctor may recommend if you are struggling with IC. Some of the most common IC medications may include:
- Pentosan Polysulfate Sodium (Elmiron): Elmiron is a United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medication used to treat IC. Currently, doctors are not sure how Elmiron works, but it appears to help repair tears or other defects in the bladder wall caused by IC.
- Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatories: This category of medications includes ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, and other common over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. They can be taken to help with both pain and inflammation related to IC.
- Tricyclic Antidepressants: The most common of these types of medications is a drug known as amitriptyline. This drug helps relax your bladder, which can reduce pain related to IC.
- Antihistamines: These medications, the most common of which being Claritin, can help decrease urinary urgency and frequency.
Should medications fail to help with symptoms, or if your doctor recommends a different treatment route, there are several other options available. One of these options is a treatment known as bladder distention.
Bladder distention is a common treatment used to treat patients with IC. This procedure stretches the bladder using either water or gas. It can help relieve symptoms by increasing the capacity of the bladder and by interrupting pain signals transmitted by nerves in the bladder. After this treatment, it can take anywhere from four to six weeks before you notice an improvement in your symptoms.
Similar to bladder distention, bladder instillation is a treatment that involves filling the bladder with a specific substance. In this case, that substance is a solution of dimethyl sulfoxide (Rimso-50), also known as DMSO. The solution of DMSO is held in the bladder for about 15 minutes before it is then emptied. One cycle of DMSO treatment generally includes two treatments per week for around eight weeks. This cycle can be repeated as needed. DMSO treatment is thought to reduce inflammation of the bladder wall and is also believed to help reduce muscle spasms that cause pain in the bladder or pelvic region.
Electrical Nerve Stimulation
A type of nerve stimulation known as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) delivers mild electrical pulses through the skin to the bladder. This may help reduce symptoms by increasing blood flow to the bladder, strengthening the pelvic muscles, and triggering the release of chemicals that block pain.
Along with the above-mention treatments, your doctor may also recommend making some changes in your everyday life to help manage your IC symptoms.
Diet and Healthy Living
Like other chronic inflammatory conditions, many people with IC discover that what they eat has a profound effect on their symptoms. While these can be different for each person, some of the more common foods that worsen IC include:
- Acidic foods such as citrus fruits and juices
If you are unsure, your doctor can help you determine if you have any food or beverage sensitivities.
Another lifestyle change your doctor may recommend is to quit smoking if you are a smoker. While the connection between smoking and IC remains unproven, smoking has been linked to bladder cancer. It’s also possible that quitting smoking can help with your symptoms, although this is largely unproven.
Lastly, maintaining the recommended amount of physical activity each day may help you manage your symptoms. Depending on your IC symptoms, you may find that you need to modify your daily routine to avoid activities that cause flare-ups. Some low-impact activities you can try to get active include:
Whatever symptoms you are suffering from, there are many ways to tackle IC-related pain. As with any change in your lifestyle, it’s always important to talk with your doctor beforehand. They can help guide you through what treatments are right for you, and can provide you with the right resources to help you along the way.
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