Interstitial Cystitis (IC) is a chronic painful bladder condition often with a myriad of other symptoms and conditions associated with it. IC is difficult to diagnose, and generally requires seeing a urologist for testing.
Tests include ultrasound imaging, cystoscopy, urinalysis, and biopsy of the bladder and urethra tissue. Women, or people with vaginas, account for 90% of people living with IC.
What Causes Interstitial Cystitis?
The exact cause of IC has not been determined; however, some theories suggest that it is due to damage to the bladder wall tissue which then allows toxins in the urine to irritate the bladder wall.
Another theory is that inflammation in the body causes a release in chemicals that cause symptoms. It can also be caused by issues with the nerve system wherein the bladder experiences pain from things that generally do not hurt. Issues in the immune system may also be a driver of IC.
Symptoms of IC Include:
- Bladder pain
- Urinary urgency
- Urinary frequency
- Pain in surrounding areas such as the genitals, pelvis, abdomen, low back, and thighs
- Pain with sex
- Urinating more than 8 times per day
People with Interstitial Cystitis may experience all or only some of these symptoms and in varying severity. As you can see, there are many similarities between UTIs and IC.
Most will experience bladder pain. Pain in the bladder itself is commonly addressed according to the unique needs and goals of the individual with IC. In some cases, patients may also experience interstitial cystitis flares.
Some people respond well to medication such as Elmiron, Topomax, and Neurontin, prescribed by a doctor. Others respond best to supplements such as aloe vera capsules, quercetin, or L-arginine.
What Diet Is Best for IC?
Dietary changes are also commonly suggested to reduce bladder pain. Certain foods and drinks can aggravate or irritate the bladder resulting in increased inflammation and pain. Caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, chocolate, and citrus are common bladder irritants. It is important to know that some people are highly effected by some foods and drinks and not affected by others.
For this reason, it is helpful to work with a dietician and to use an elimination diet to determine exactly what your bladder irritants are and come up with a personalized interstitial cystitis diet.
Interstitial Cystitis and Frequent Urination
For some, the urge to urinate leads them to run to the bathroom every fifteen minutes even though only a few drops of urine come out. This urgency and frequency are commonly caused by pain when the bladder fills. This discomfort can lead people to urinate frequently to avoid the pain of the bladder filling- unfortunately this can create new bladder behavior and habits which worsen the need to urinate.
The bladder contains sensory nerves in the walls that help relay information on how full the bladder is. These nerves can become more sensitive to filling a smaller and smaller volumes. The bladder becomes so used to being emptied by urination at frequent intervals that it starts to send signals to void at these smaller volumes even though it could hold more.
This symptom can be treated with the help of a pelvic physical therapist. Commonly a delayed voiding schedule for going to the bathroom is established. Initially this may include feeling the urge to urinate and simply waiting for a few minutes before proceeding to the toilet. Small incremental changes over time are helpful in regaining a more normal bathroom routine.
Interstitial Cystitis and Painful Sex
Pain with sex is commonly reported in women, and can be experienced at the vulva, our outer skin, or inside the vagina and on penetration. Men with IC may experience pain with ejaculation. This pain with intercourse is commonly caused by pelvic floor muscles that are too tight or have taunt bands or trigger points in them.
The pain of IC is thought to cause tensing or clenching of the pelvic floor muscles which in turn become painful themselves. The good news is the pelvic floor muscles can be retrained with the help of a pelvic physical therapist using biofeedback or ultrasound imaging.
Additionally, the patented Intimate Rose pelvic wand can be used to address trigger points and to restore the length and mobility of the muscles.
Interstitial Cystitis can be a challenging health issue to manage. It often requires a comprehensive team of healthcare professionals and trying different treatments to address the underlying causes of pain. Everyone responds differently to different treatment methods.
The good news is that with right combination of treatments, it is possible to relieve pain and live a quality life with IC.