Interstitial Cystitis

What is Interstitial Cystitis (IC)?

Interstitial cystitis is a chronic and painful condition of the bladder.  People with IC have a bladder wall that is tender and easily irritated, leading to uncomfortable symptoms.  If you have this condition, you're not alone.  Thousands of people (mostly women, but some are also men) are affected by IC.  Although IC currently has no cure, the symptoms can be managed to help you feel better and live more comfortably.

Symptoms of IC

IC symptoms are similar to those of a urinary tract infection. They include the following:

  • The frequent and urgent need to urinate
  • Pain or pressure in the bladder area, often relieved for a short time after urinating
  • Pain in the genitals or anus
  • Painful sexual intercourse

Symptoms may go away for a period of time (remission), but they often come back again.

When You Have IC

The bladder stores urine until its passed out of the body.  What happens in the bladder to cause IC is not clear, but some changes have been observed.  The protective lining that keeps urine away from the bladder walls may become thinner.  The walls may stiffen and harden so the bladder can't expand to hold the urine. 

Possible Causes

The cause of IC is under debate, but possible causes include the following:

  • Damage to the prtective bladder lining, allowing urine to irritate the bladder wall
  • Infection of the bladder
  • Allergic reaction in the bladder
  • Neurological (nerve) problems
  • Substances found in the urine that are irritating to the bladder

Treatment Options

Lifestyle Changes

  • Avoid the following foods if they worsen your symptoms: alcohol, spicy foods, chocolate, caffeine, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, and carbonated drinks
  • Retrain your bladder if recommended by your doctor.  This often involves holding urine in for longer and longer periods to help stretch the bladder and increase the amount the bladder can hold. 
  • Manage Stress in your life.  Stress doesn't cause IC, but it can make your symptoms worse.  Ask your doctor about techniques to help you relax and relieve stress.  Meditation, massage, and yoga are some possiblities.  Exercise is an excellent way to help relieve stress.  Walking and swimming are two good choices that may be comfortable enough for you to do regularly.

Oral Medications

Certain medications may be prescribed for you to help manage your symptoms.  These include the following:

  • Pain medications for a short time period to help ease discomfort
  • Antispasmodic medications to help relax the bladder muscles and decrease the need to urinate
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and antihistamines to help reduce inflammation and relieve pain
  • Antidepressants in low doses to help relieve IC symptoms, perhaps by blocking pain receptors
  • Medications to restore bladder lining such as pentosan polysulfate sodium (Elmiron)

Bladder Hydrodistension

Some patients have relief from symptoms for a time after bladder hydrodistension is done to diagnose IC.  If this is true for you, your doctor may choose to repeat the hydrodistension procedure as a form of treatment.

Bladder Instillation

Also called bladder wash or bath, bladder instillation may help relieve inflammation or repair the bladder's protective lining.  During this treatment, the bladder is filled with medications using a slender tube called a catheter.  One or more types of medication may be used.  The medication is held inside the bladder for a period of time (usually 15-30 minutes).  Then the medication is urinated or drained from the bladder through the catheter.  Instillation treatments are often repeated several times over a period of two to three months.


Biofeedback is a painless technique that can help you learn to control the movement of your bladder muscles. During biofeedback, sensors are placed on your abdomen.  The sensors convert signals given off by your muscles into lines on the computer screen.

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