Interstitial cystitis (IC) is chronic inflammation of the bladder in which sufferers can experience uncomfortable bladder pressure, bladder pain and pelvic pain.
IC affects four to 12 million people in the U.S. Women are 10 times more likely to have IC than men.
The symptoms of IC vary from person to person. They can fluctuate over time and may be triggered by menstruation, sitting for long periods of time, stress, exercise and sexual activity.
Symptoms include chronic pelvic pain in the lower abdominal, urethral or vaginal area plus pain during sexual intercourse. There is also pressure, pain and tenderness around the bladder.
Another symptom is frequent urination – often small amounts – throughout the day and night. People with severe IC may urinate 60 times a day. In early or very mild cases, frequency can be the only symptom.
The urgent need to urinate is another. This sensation of having to urinate immediately may also be accompanied by pain, pressure, or spasms.
For many women, the symptoms get worse before their menstrual period.
IC is frequently misdiagnosed as a urinary tract infection, but urine cultures are typically free of bacteria.
The cause is unknown. Doctors do know IC isn't caused by bacterial or viral infections. It’s usually diagnosed by ruling out other conditions such as sexually transmitted disease, bladder cancer and infections, endometriosis, kidney stones, and vaginal infections.
There is no cure for interstitial cystitis but several treatments may offer relief.
IC patients should avoid alcohol, tomatoes, spices, carbonated drinks, chocolate, caffeine, citrus, pickled foods, artificial sweeteners and acidic foods. Although cranberry juice is often recommended for urinary tract infections, it can make IC symptoms worse.
There are several oral medications that treat IC symptoms. One, called Elmiron, is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration specifically for interstitial cystitis. Others reduce urinary urgency and frequency and relieve other symptoms.
One treatment option is bladder distention. Under anesthesia, a doctor overfills the bladder with gas or fluid.