Also referred to as bladder pain syndrome, interstitial cystitis (IC) is a chronic, long-lasting condition that causes painful urinary symptoms. According to recent research from the Interstitial Cystitis Association, the condition is much more prevalent than originally thought.

Research varies widely, but an estimated 3 to 8 million women (3-6%) in the United States may have IC. The condition also affects roughly 1 to 4 million men, although this is a conservative estimate as the condition is more likely to be mistaken for other disorders in men.

Men, women and children of any age or race can develop IC at any point during their life though many adults report symptoms dating back to childhood.

Symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis

The symptoms of IC and their severity may be different from person to person. The common symptoms include: 

  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Pain between the vagina and anus in women
  • Pain between the scrotum and anus in men (perineum)
  • Persistent, urgent need to urinate
  • Frequent urination, often of small amounts throughout the day and night (up to 60 times per day)
  • Pain or discomfort while the bladder fills followed by relief after urinating
  • Pain during sexual intercourse

Symptoms of IC may vary over time with periodic flare-ups in response to certain triggers such as menstruation, prolonged periods of sitting, stress, exercise and sexual activity. 

Interstitial cystitis may share some of the same signs and symptoms of a urinary tract infection with the difference being there is usually no infection present. 

Causes of Interstitial Cystitis

Unfortunately, the exact cause(s) of interstitial cystitis is unknown. However, researchers have identified several different factors that may contribute to the development of this condition. The leading theory is that the development of IC is trigger by one or more events that cause damage to the bladder or bladder lining. These triggers may include: 

  • Bladder trauma, such as from pelvic surgery
  • Bladder overdistention
  • Pelvic floor muscle dysfunction
  • Autoimmune disorder
  • Bacterial infection (cystitis)
  • Primary neurogenic inflammation
  • Spinal cord trauma

Common Risk Factors

Researchers have also identified several risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing IC. These include: 

  • Gender: women are diagnosed more often than men
  • Skin and hair color: fair skin and red hair have been associated with greater risk of IC.
  • Age: Although symptoms often start in childhood, most people are diagnosed with IC in their 30s or later
  • Chronic pain disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or fibromyalgia

Diagnosis & Treatment

Without a definitive cause, there is currently no medical test to diagnose interstitial cystitis. Due to its complex nature, your primary care physician will likely refer you to a urologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of urologic conditions.

Your provider will perform a comprehensive evaluation that will include a physical exam and medical history. Additional tests may also be ordered to rule out other conditions such as a neurological exam, urodynamic evaluation and/or cystoscopy. 

Schedule an Appointment

If you’re experiencing chronic bladder pain or urinary urgency and frequency, contact your doctor right away. Untreated, interstitial cystitis can lead to various complications including reduced bladder capacity, lower quality of life, problems with sexual intimacy and emotional distress that may lead to depression.

The board-certified physicians at Alliance Urology Specialists are experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of urological conditions, including interstitial cystitis. To schedule an appointment, call (336) 274-1114.