Bladder HealthPainful Bladder Syndrome: What It Is, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Painful Bladder Syndrome: What It Is, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Going to the restroom is something that most people don’t give a second thought. However, for people with painful bladder syndrome, this simple act of emptying one’s bladder can cause a lot of pain and distress.

So, what exactly is painful bladder syndrome? What are the symptoms? And is there treatment that can alleviate the pain? All of this and more explained below.

What is Painful Bladder Syndrome?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, painful bladder syndrome, also known as interstitial cystitis (IC), is a condition that results in issues with the urinary tract system. The areas most commonly affected by the symptoms of this condition are the bladder and pelvis. The pain that comes with IC can flare up as the bladder fills with urination because this presence of liquid causes pressure that sometimes can’t be relieved.

This condition is chronic, meaning that the symptoms are persistent and that there is no known cure. Medical professionals are still learning a lot about IC in general, including why it occurs, who it affects, and what can be done to relieve the pain. Research suggests that damage to the lining of the bladder wall, pelvic floor dysfunction, and a possible immune system attack can all be causes that explain IC.

Additionally, studies show that painful bladder syndrome is connected to other chronic pain conditions such as:

This means that people with IC are likely to also have another chronic condition. This is the first of many reasons why it can be hard to get diagnosed with painful bladder syndrome. The symptoms of chronic conditions like these can overlap.

Secondly not many people know about painful bladder syndrome—and what they do know could be a misconception of the truth. Even though millions of people—with more women than men being impacted—are diagnosed with painful bladder syndrome, there’s still much to know about this condition.

Next, a lot of patients who have the symptoms of interstitial cystitis have to learn how to advocate for themselves because their symptoms might make it seem as though they have a bladder infection or urinary tract infection (UTI). In reality, IC requires much different treatment than what would be needed for an infection. That said, an infection can certainly make painful bladder syndrome symptoms worse. But without a singular test for IC, health professionals rely on patients’ depiction of these symptoms to diagnose.

The symptoms speak volumes when it comes to the pain that people with IC frequently feel. Some experts describe the pain of IC as debilitating and even disabling. Of course, people with IC already know just how intense the symptoms can be.

Symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial Cystitis

Most typically, the symptoms of IC include:

  • Pain in bladder (usually as it fills with urination)
  • Pain in pelvis
  • Pain in back
  • Painful urination
  • Pain during sex
  • Urinating (or feeling the urge to go) frequently
  • Inability to empty the bladder
  • Blood in urine

Unfortunately, people with IC experience a lot of pain on a daily basis because of this condition. But pain is not the only symptom. Rather, this condition can cause a lot of other distress as well.

It’s also important to discuss the effects that painful bladder syndrome can have on somebody’s mental health. Not only does experiencing pain on a regular basis increase the chances of someone developing depression and anxiety, but it also can feel incredibly isolating to deal with this type of pain.

Any issues that have to do with using the bathroom are personal. You might feel vulnerable talking about the pain you feel. But this just adds to the isolation.

Know that you’re not the only one living through the trials of this condition. There are many more people out there like you who are looking for ways to cope with painful bladder syndrome, one day at a time.

This is where having support through groups like the Pain Resource Community is invaluable. You can communicate with others easily, quickly, and safely about health topics that are difficult to talk about. You can even get tried-and-true advice on how to best treat the pain of interstitial cystitis.

When combined with guidance from a healthcare professional, this advice can take you a long way toward a more manageable way of living with painful bladder syndrome. Though IC can’t be cured entirely, there are various treatment options that address the symptoms. These treatment options range as far as how invasive they can be and how effective they are for each individual person.

Treatment Options for Painful Bladder Syndrome

Treating the symptoms of painful bladder syndrome is a tricky task, but it’s not impossible. The bladder and pelvic pain can be alleviated through a variety of methods. Always check with your doctor before trying a treatment method like the ones below:

  1. Anti-inflammatory medications—Certain anti-inflammatory medications can help to take some of the painful pressure off of the bladder as it fills or empties. For people who are unable or would prefer not to take medication for health and personal reasons, similar effects can be achieved by avoiding foods or drinks that cause inflammation (sugar, high-fat content, fried, etc.).
  2. Physical therapy—Working with a physical therapist to strengthen the muscles of your pelvic floor can be instrumental in managing IC pain. In PT, you might do exercises like bridges and pelvic tilts to activate, heal, and strengthen the necessary muscles.
  3. Surgery—In rare and extreme cases, surgery is required. There are a few different surgical options, including procedures that remove any possible ulcers that could be taking up space in the bladder. Giving the bladder more space is ultimately the goal for most of these surgeries, as much of the pain occurs as the bladder fills with urine. But even with surgery intervention, different approaches are often still needed to keep the pain at bay. 

The overall hope in treating any chronic condition is to improve one’s quality of life. This doesn’t always mean living completely pain free. As those with chronic conditions like painful bladder syndrome know, being entirely pain free isn’t necessarily an achievable goal.

But reducing the amount of daily pain you feel, improving your ability to function, and keeping your physical and mental health well managed is something that can be accomplished with the right support. This is why it’s so essential to talk with others about your experiences with IC. By sharing your story and raising awareness, you could be one step closer to helping yourself and others live with less pain.

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  1. What you have described is me every day for months now but I don’t know what is bad for me as I already have GORD. Diverticular disease and inflammation of descending Colon and for weeks now the vagina, bladder passage and my anus area are all very inflamed. I sting, itch, burn like a fire is inside me,
    and my abdomen is also very sore and when touched the bladder vfeels this as needing to urinate. I am to see a specialist next Monday so do I need to tell him/her all of my medical history ? I have had Shingles several times aged around 20 and in my 50’s the milder had a vaccination done within 3 days so this didn’t progress further. Also have had Hep. A. Very bad case brought on premature birth 10 weeks early, mum and baby survived to tell the tale in England no apidemic at the time non of my children or husband got it just a middle 12 year old brother don’t know whom gave it to whom as he wasn’t diagnosed due to his normal skin colour as being unwell vomiting later showed what was wrong.


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