Interstitial Cystitis Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Interstitial cystitis, also known as bladder pain, can impact your daily life and your sex life. Learn more about interstitial symptoms, causes, and treatment.
Approximately 3-6 percent of the female population in the U.S. (that’s between three and eight million women) currently suffer from interstitial cystitis.
Interstitial cystitis (IC), which is also known as bladder pain syndrome, is a chronic bladder problem. Do you think you could be experiencing it, too?
IC is a common condition, especially among women. Luckily, though, there are quite a few different treatment options available to help with symptom management.
Before you decide to seek out IC treatment, it’s important to understand exactly what the condition is and what it looks like.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about interstitial cystitis symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
What Is Interstitial Cystitis?
Interstitial cystitis is characterized by bladder pressure and pain, as well as pelvic pain in some cases. The pain can range from mild to severe.
IC can affect both men and women, but it’s much more common in women.
IC occurs when signals get crossed between the brain and the bladder. Normally, the bladder expands as it fills and then sends a signal to the brain via the pelvic nerves that urination is necessary. This results in an urge to urinate.
Individuals who suffer from IC may feel a need to urinate more often than the average person. The signal that urination is necessary may be sent even when there are very small amounts of urine in the bladder.
Interstitial Cystitis Symptoms
A frequent need to urinate is one of the most common symptoms of IC. There are several other symptoms you ought to be on the lookout for, though, including the following:
Pain, often accompanied by a feeling of pressure, affects nearly everyone who suffers from IC. You may experience pain in the bladder that worsens as the bladder fills.
You may feel pain in other areas, too, including the following:
- Lower back
- Perineal area (behind the vagina)
- Lower abdomen
For some, this pain is consistent. For others, it comes and goes throughout the day and gets worse during certain activities, such as during sexual intercourse.
Increased Urinary Frequency
The need to pass urinary increases with IC, too.
On average, an individual only urinates six or seven times per day. They shouldn’t have to get up more than once to urinate in the night, either.
If you’re urinating more than this, or if you’re constantly getting up in the night to urinate, you could be suffering from IC.
Increased Urgency to Urinate
With IC, you’ll also feel an increased urgency to urinate, too. For some people, the urge never goes away, even immediately after they’ve urinated.
Researchers don’t know for certain what causes IC. There are a few different theories, though, including the following:
- Bladder tissue defects that allow irritants to penetrate the bladder
- Inflammatory mast cells that release histamine and chemicals associated with IC symptoms
- The presence of a damaging substance in the urine, perhaps after an injury or infection to the bladder
- An autoimmune condition that causes the immune system to attack the bladder
- Changes in pelvic nerve functions
An increased risk of developing IC doesn’t appear related to any behaviors like smoking. Having a family history of IC may slightly increase one’s chance of experiencing it themselves.
IC has been linked to other chronic health conditions like fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome. It also appears to affect more people who are in their 30s or older.
Factors that Make IC Worse
Many people find that certain triggers make their IC symptoms worse. For example, their IC may get worse after they consume certain foods or beverages.
Some folks have reported more severe symptoms when they consume drinks like alcohol, coffee, or soda. Their symptoms may also be triggered by hot or spicy foods or by foods that contain a lot of artificial sweeteners or additives.
Stress may also make IC symptoms worse, and women may experience more severe symptoms during menstruation.
There are a few different tests that your doctor may use to diagnose IC. Some common tests include:
- A bladder diary to determine how often you’re urinating
- A pelvic exam to determine the health of the external genitals, internal pelvic organs, cervix, and vagina
- A urine test to check for signs of a urinary tract infection
- A cystoscopy to examine the lining of the bladder and measure bladder capacity
- A biopsy to check for other causes of bladder pain like bladder cancer
Doctors may also perform a potassium sensitivity test. This test involves the placement of two solutions into the bladder. One is just water, and the other contains potassium chloride.
After the solutions are placed into the bladder, you’ll be asked to rate your pain and urgency. If your pain or urgency increases with the potassium solution, IC is likely the cause.
IC Treatment Options
There is no cure for IC. There are, however, many different treatment options that can help you manage your symptoms and enjoy a higher quality of life.
Listed below are some of the most common treatments options:
Sometimes, working with a physical therapist can be very helpful. A physical therapist can teach you exercises that will help to relieve pelvic pain and bladder muscle tenderness.
Oral medications for pain management are common.
Your doctor might also prescribe tricyclic antidepressants to block pain and relax the bladder or antihistamines to minimize urinary frequency.
There is also a drug known as pentosan polysulfate sodium that has been approved by the FDA specifically to treat IC.
If you work with a urogynecologist, someone who specializes in treating specific pelvic and women’s health conditions, you might try nerve stimulation, too.
Nerve stimulation helps to strengthen the muscles of the bladder and improves symptoms related to urinary frequency and urgency.
Sometimes, surgery is also required to treat severe IC symptoms. There are a few different surgical techniques that can help.
Fulguration and resection are minimally invasive procedures that involve the insertion of an instrument through the urethra to get rid of ulcers that may occur along with IC.
Bladder augmentation can help, too. This procedure involves attaching a patch of intestinal tissue to the bladder to increase its capacity.
Get Treatment for IC Today
Do you think you’re experiencing interstitial cystitis symptoms? If so, you ought to visit a doctor right away.
If you live in or around the Houston, Texas area, contact us today to schedule an appointment with Dr. Peter M. Lotze.
Dr. Lotze is the first fellowship-trained Urogynecologist to open a practice in Houston. He’s also among the first Urogynecologists to also become board certified in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.
You’ll be in good hands working with Dr. Lotze and his team.