What is Interstitial Cystitis?

Published: March 6, 2019
woman holding abdomen with text interstitial cystitis

Interstitial Cystitis (IC) is a condition often marked by bladder pain, discomfort, or pressure that lasts for 6 weeks or more but has no clear cause. (1) Sometimes, IC is also referred to as Bladder Pain Syndrome (BPS).

Symptoms of IC

IC is a complicated condition because it presents with a variety of symptoms. The symptoms can vary from person to person. In fact, the symptoms can also change within an individual over time. Patients with IC can experience any combination of the symptoms listed below. In some cases, the symptoms are cyclical (meaning they will come and go) with bodily hormone shifts or menstruation. (2)

  • Frequency – The need to use the bathroom more often than normal. This can occur at any time of day. Urinating no more than 7 times daily and no more than once during your sleeping hours is considered average. (1)
  • Urgency – The sensation of needing to urinate that isn’t relieved by emptying the bladder. For some patients, this can develop over time, making it less noticeable. In others, this symptom comes on rapidly and causes distinct discomfort. (1)
  • Pain – Pain or pressure that can come and go and usually worsens with a full bladder. The pain can occur in a variety of locations including in the urethra, lower abdomen, and lower back. Women may also feel pain in the vagina or vulva. Men can experience IC pain in the scrotum, testicles or penis. (1)
  • Sexual Discomfort – For both men and women, sexual problems can occur. Intercourse can become painful for women. Men may experience pain the day following ejaculation. (1)

Causes of IC

In short. Experts aren’t certain what causes IC. (2) There are a variety of theories and assumptions about potential causes but none are accepted as fact.

Women are much more likely to develop IC than men, but men are also susceptible.

Can you prevent IC?

Because we don’t know the exact root causes of IC, recommending a prevention plan isn’t feasible. (2)

Diagnosing IC

There is not a defined medical test that definitively diagnoses IC. For that reason, people with IC are often misdiagnosed with other conditions which can delay correct and effective treatment. Because it isn’t simple to diagnose, it should only be evaluated and diagnosed by a urologist (2).

Your urologist will conduct a medical history and physical exam, and in some cases may also order a neurological exam. It’s crucial for your urologist to get a full picture of your health because in some cases, IC symptoms have a psychological component. (1) Your urologist may use a combination of a urine exam, urodynamics analysis, and cystoscopy to rule out or pinpoint any other underlying urological conditions.

Treatment plan for IC

Because the condition is complex, and the cause is unknown, treatment tends to be very individualized to each patient. In addition, many patients who have IC also have other urological or chronic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers and/or fibromyalgia. (1)

Treating IC combined with IBS is different than treating IC combined with ulcers – which is why your urologist will work to get a complete picture of your health before coming up with your recommended treatment plan.

Sometimes lifestyle changes can help to manage IC symptoms. Some patients find that doing an elimination diet for a few weeks can help pinpoint the foods that may be triggering symptoms. (1) Your urologist can also point you to IC-friendly diets that avoid common triggers.

In some cases, patients don’t feel enough relief from lifestyle changes alone. Your urologist can then recommend a combination of prescription medications and physical therapy to attempt to get your symptoms under control. (1)

If the first two lines of defense still aren’t enough. You may need to visit a specialized urologist to consider more involved interventions like cauterizing ulcers, neuromodulation, immune suppressants, or surgery. (1)

For most IC patients, it can take some trial and error (and patience) to find the combination of lifestyle and medical interventions that help you feel your best. (1) Symptoms may come and go as time passes – but many patients find that they need to continue with their implemented lifestyle changes in order to keep IC symptoms at bay.

The Final Word

When it comes to a complex and mysterious urological condition like IC – you want urological experts on your side. Virginia Urology brings over 75 years of experience to every patient we treat. Because we have a large practice, we have urologists with unique subspecialties and expertise. And for patients with IC – working with Virginia Urology means that you have a whole team of expert urologists who can work together to get to the bottom of your symptoms.

There’s hope in sight. Call us today.

  1. https://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/interstitial-cystitis (PDF)
  2. Urology Care Podcast – “Interstitial Cystitis 101 Podcast” – urologyhealth.org

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