Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a bladder condition causing pelvic and bladder pain, a frequent urge to pee, and discomfort during and after intercourse. IC flares can be triggered by several factors, but with some tips and understanding, they can be managed and minimized. Here’s everything you need to know about interstitial cystitis flares.
Interstitial Cystitis Flares – What Are They?
Interstitial cystitis flares are described as a sudden worsening of the symptoms associated with IC. Flares can last for a few hours or several days, depending on what triggered them, and they can happen to long-term IC patients, as well as those who are newly diagnosed. Triggers include specific foods, travel, tight clothing, strenuous exercise, certain medications, sex, and fluctuations in hormones.
IC flares are not the same for every patient. Symptoms such as pain in the pelvic area, needing to pee frequently, and the burning sensation when urinating are common in most patients, however, the intensity and duration of IC flares can vary from person to person.
Flares triggered by food that can irritate the bladder, for example, will worsen symptoms within minutes or hours and can last for 1-2 days. Flares triggered by hormone fluctuations during ovulation might only last a few hours before subsiding. Alternatively, an IC flare after sexual intercourse may occur 1-2 days afterward and linger for a few days.
The good news is that there are treatments and ways to relieve discomfort caused by interstitial cystitis flares. We'll get to this a little later.
When Food Triggers IC Flares
In a 2007 study, over 90% of participants found that IC flares occurred after eating certain foods. Trigger foods will vary from person to person, and an elimination diet is usually required to avoid the triggering foods.
Working with a nutritionist can be a great resource in finding the right eating plan for IC, however, patients are generally advised to avoid the four Cs – citrus fruits, carbonated drinks, foods containing vitamins C, and caffeine
Interstitial Cystitis Flares Caused by Tight Clothing
For IC patients, tight clothing around the pelvic area and waist can sometimes trigger a flare. Tight jeans or pants, leggings, pantyhose, slimming shapewear, or girdles can become uncomfortable and restricting. If you begin to experience pain in the pelvic area or bladder, change the tight clothing immediately for relief. Going forward, try to buy clothes that will not feel tight or restrictive to keep IC flares to a minimum.
IC Flares Triggered by Sexual Intercourse
The pelvic floor muscles are directly linked to the act of sexual intercourse, arousal, and orgasms. When these muscles are tight or irritated due to IC, they can trigger pelvic and bladder pain as well as a flare of other associated IC symptoms.
Some tips to enjoy better intimacy and less pain after sex for IC patients include using pain-relieving medicines before engaging in intercourse, using a lubricant during intercourse, and using an ice pack on the perineum for 20-30 minutes after sex. Additionally, a sitz bath can be beneficial in reducing IC flares after intercourse.
When Traveling Causes IC Flares
Because the pelvic region takes the brunt of bumps in the road and bouncing on train or plane seats, certain means of transport can trigger IC flares or deepen existing flares. When traveling by car, using a web search to locate restrooms along the journey may relieve some of the panic associated with needing to urinate urgently and frequently. Alternatively, some IC patients put a portable potty in the car for travel. Bringing a comfortable cushion to sit on during a car, plane, or train journey will also help to minimize the impact of bumpy roads and pothole vibrations on the pelvic area too.
IC Flares Caused by Hormonal Changes
Some IC patients find that high levels of progesterone can trigger flares while others report that high levels of estrogen can cause them. The good news is that IC flares caused by hormonal changes are usually brief. Keeping track of your menstrual cycle can help you to remember to drink more water, practice meditation and gentle stretches that relax the pelvic muscles.
Treating IC Flares from Strenuous Exercise
Cycling, jogging, horse riding, and strenuous gym workouts are known to trigger IC flares. This is not to say that IC patients should not exercise, simply that exercise should be chosen with your condition in mind. Yoga, pilates, and brisk walking will put less pressure on the pelvic area.
However, if you do experience a flare from exercise, take some time to relax, have a warm sitz bath, and place an ice pack or a heating pad on the perineum for 20-30 minutes for relief.
When Stress Triggers an Interstitial Cystitis Flare
While stress is not known to cause IC, it is recognized as a trigger for IC flares. Recent studies have shown that spinal cord nerves and bladder nerves can react to physical and emotional stress. To reduce stress-related IC triggers, find some relaxation techniques that suit your lifestyle.
Some people find meditation helpful to manage stress, others take a walk in nature, and some people find that a relaxing massage helps.
Extra Tips to Manage IC Flares
Addressing an IC flare sooner rather than later will ensure it passes quicker and symptoms don’t get the chance to intensify. If you suffer from IC, try some of these preventative tips to minimize flares, as well as solutions that help to ease them when they do occur.
- Add a natural supplement to your daily routine that directly helps IC symptoms. Evidence from recent studies shows that aloe vera supplements, such as the Freeze Dried Aloe Vera For Interstitial Cystitis from Intimate Rose are very effective in reducing the intensity of ongoing IC symptoms and flares.
Aloe vera’s natural anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, and anti-fungal properties not only soothe the burning sensation but also help to regenerate the protective layer of the bladder more commonly known as the GAG layer, which can often be damaged in IC patients.
- Drinking at least 2 liters of water per day will help to dilute urine and minimize the burning sensation.
- Experiment with resting a cold pack, heating pad, or hot water bottle on the perineum (between the vagina and anus). For some patients, a cold pack provides more relief, and for others, relief comes from heat.
- Soak regularly in a warm sitz bath.
- Lay down, bring your knees into your chest, open the knees wide and breathe gently to relax the pelvic floor muscles. Lowering into a squat from a standing position and breathing gently also provides relief.
- Physical therapy for the pelvic floor is helpful. A pelvic PT will conduct a thorough evaluation and provide exercises, and deep tissue massage of the pelvic area, trigger point release therapy, and nerve relief. By releasing the tension from the pelvic muscles, physical therapy has been proven to reduce inflammation and restore pelvic muscles to function more normally.
Interstitial cystitis flares can be triggered by several factors including diet choices, strenuous exercise, stress, sex, tight clothing, and traveling long distances. However, while IC flares are known to intensify IC symptoms, there are several ways to minimize the pain and irritation.
Consider making an appointment with a physiotherapist, speak with a nutritionist about establishing an IC diet for your unique needs, and consult with your doctor before adding any supplements to existing medications.
Interstitial Cystitis Associaton - What is Interstitial Cystitis - https://www.ichelp.org/about-ic/what-is-interstitial-cystitis/
Urology Care Foundation – Effect of Diet on Interstitial Cystitis - https://www.urologyhealth.org/healthy-living/urologyhealth-extra/magazine-archives/summer-2016/effect-of-diet-on-interstitial-cystitis
National Center For Biotechnology Information – An Update on Treatment Options for Interstitial Cystitis - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7258371/
National Center for Biotechnology Information - Impact of behavior and lifestyle on bladder health - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23679903/