Interstitial Cystitis (IC) is a chronic pain syndrome of the bladder that is often now included within Painful Bladder Syndrome (PBS). IC is noted for symptoms of pelvic pain, urgency, frequency, nocturia in the absence of bacterial infection.
Some surveys show that it may be present in up to 2% of all women. The chronic nature of the symptoms can be debilitating and have a profound negative impact on quality of life.
What causes IC is not well understood, but it may be secondary to defective bladder lining that then allows acid/other toxins to permeate into the bladder wall and lead to pain. Pain nerves are stimulated but perhaps maintain an “on” state where pain is perceived in the absence of the bad stimulus.
After a bladder infection is cleared with antibiotics, the pain and symptoms resolve. In IC the nerves that send pain signals may continue to be active despite the fact that no toxin/bacteria are present any longer.
So what common diagnoses can IC mimic? In other words, most or all of the following conditions are often diagnosed first, while IC becomes a diagnosis of exclusion once these common problems have been ruled out.
Recurrent UTIs- a simple culture can verify the presence of bacteria, but if UTIs are really reoccurring, a search for why bacteria persist or recurs must be sought after.
Endometriosis- this could lead to pelvic pain and bladder symptoms, as well as pain with sex. Pain with endometriosis will mimic the menstrual cycle and laparoscopy with a gynecologist can make the diagnosis.
Chronic Pelvic Pain- this is usually defined as pain for at least 6 months with unclear etiology. It can be from the back, buttocks, abdominal wall muscles, and the pain leads to functional impairment. Common causes are: adhesions, pelvic inflammatory disease, ovarian pain, radiation pain, and so on…)
Vulvodynia- this is pain emanating from the opening of the vagina in the absence of any clear pathology. The vulva and the bladder share nerve endings and are derived from similar structures in development and there is likely some crossover in perception of symptoms.