Interstitial Cystitis: What Is It?

Interstitial Cystitis: what is it exactly? Interstitial Cystitis (IC) impacts more than 200,000 new people in the United States each year. The condition is often confused with a urinary tract infection or UTI, but while the symptoms are similar, there are differences between the two.

What is Interstitial Cystitis

interstitial cystitis what is it woman in gray holding her stomach due to pain caused by ic PBD

IC also called bladder pain syndrome (BPS), is a chronic condition that causes sufferers to feel pressure and pain in the bladder area. Understanding IC requires a general idea of how the bladder works.

The bladder is an organ that holds your urine. As urine enters the bladder, it expands until the bladder is full and signals are sent to the pelvic nerve before they’re sent to the brain alerting you to having to urinate.

If you suffer from IC, these signals won’t function properly and will often cause you to incorrectly feel the need to urinate.

In many respects, the symptoms are very similar to a UTI where you’ll feel the need to urinate and either not have to or expel very little urine.

Interstitial Cystitis Causes/Symptoms

IC is more common in women than men, and there is no cure. The main reasons for IC are:

  • A defect is present in the bladder’s protective lining
  • The lining has a leak that causes substances to irritate the bladder wall

It's also thought, although not proven, that IC is caused by allergies, infection, autoimmune reaction and it may be heredity. While there are a lot of possible causes for interstitial cystitis, there are also some risk factors that are well-known:

  • Sex. Women are far more likely to be diagnosed with IC, but men can also be diagnosed with the condition.
  • Skin. People with fair skin and hair are at greater risk of interstitial cystitis.
  • Age. The risk of IC tends to rise as a person ages with most sufferers being 30+ years of age or older.
  • Chronic pain disorder. A person with chronic pain disorder, such as fibromyalgia or irritable bowel syndrome, may also be at a higher risk of interstitial cystitis.

The CDC suggests that between 1 and 5.1 people out of every 100,000 in the general population will suffer from IC. Studies also suggest that as much as 12% of women may already show early signs of IC.

Symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis

The most common symptoms of IC include:

  • Pain and pressure in the bladder that worsens until the bladder fills
  • Pain in or around the vagina and pain in your vulva
  • Pain in the penis, behind the scrotum, in the scrotum or testicles
  • During sex, women may experience pain; after sex or during orgasm, men may feel pain
  • Feeling the urge to urinate after just finishing urinating
  • Urinating more than seven or eight times a day
  • Discomfort in your pelvic area or abdomen
  • Tenderness of the bladder

Pain can be dull or severe. Some people experience an intense burning sensation while others claim that their pain is more akin to a sting. In less than 10% of cases, sufferers will also get ulcers.

Interstitial Cystitis Treatments

interstitial cystitis what is it woman talking to her doctor about treatment options for ic

Treating IC is difficult, and a multi-prong approach is required to treat IC/BPS. Oftentimes, multiple forms of treatment need to be combined to find relief. Doctors will recommend treatment phases to find a treatment that works well for you, including:

  1. Lifestyle changes are the first course of treatment. You may need to limit stress, go to physical therapy and limit certain foods and drinks. Four main food items that you may need to cut out of your diet include coffee, citrus fruits, chocolate, and tomatoes. You may be asked to go on an elimination diet to find foods and drinks that amplify your IC.
  2. Prescription medications may be recommended if you don’t find relief during phase one. Multiple medications and options may be recommended, including dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), hydroxyzine, oral pentosan polysulfate, heparin or amitriptyline.
  3. Neuromodulation is the third form of treatment which includes injections, cauterization of bladder ulcers, or neuromodulation therapy.
  4. Cyclosporine treatment may be recommended, but doctors will only recommend this treatment as a last resort since it's an immunosuppressant.
  5. Surgery is the final treatment option which is only recommended in the most serious cases. Multiple surgical options are available including bladder augmentation, fulguration, or resection. All of the treatment options mentioned work to remove ulcers or work around the ulcers except augmentation. Bladder augmentation patches the bladder’s intestine to increase the capacity of the bladder.

Surgery is always a last resort and is often not required to help relieve symptoms.

Some treatments can put IC into remission, but there’s always a risk that IC can come back. You may need to continue treatment or dietary changes following remission to help keep IC from coming back.

Interstitial Cystitis Natural Remedies

A change in lifestyle and natural remedies may be enough to curb the symptoms you’re experiencing with IC. Since many medications often cause harsh side effects, sufferers often prefer all-natural remedies.

The natural remedies that may be able to alleviate IC symptoms are:

  • Melatonin was the focus of a 2003 study that found that the supplement protects the bladder from irritants that may cause IC.
  • Quercetin can also be found in supplement form, and a few studies have shown the promising benefits of this supplement. Taking 500 mg two times daily, over a period of four weeks, was found to greatly improve symptoms. No side effects were reported.
  • DMSO was also found to help people that suffer from Hunner lesions. The study found that hydrodistension was improved and maintained when the participants used DMSO. But the study found that when the presence of the lesions didn’t exist, relief was not noted.

Antioxidants and bladder control supplements may be able to provide relief, too. You may need to use multiple treatment options to find relief.

Final Thoughts

Interstitial cystitis is a condition with no cure. But sufferers can follow a standard treatment routine or use the natural remedies outlined above to find relief. If IC is allowed to go untreated, it can lead to bladder scarring or stiffening.

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