Interstitial Cystitis

The urologists at Urology Associates diagnose and provide treatment for interstitial cystitis. Our urologists will rule out other disorders to make a proper diagnosis of interstitial cystitis and ensure the best possible outcome.

About Interstitial Cystitis:

Interstitial cystitis (IC), also known as “bladder pain syndrome,” is a chronic condition that causes bladder and pelvic discomfort. IC can greatly impact the quality of life in patients. Symptoms can often mimic a urinary tract infection (UTI), causing urinary frequency and urgency. However, there is no actual infection causing the symptoms.

IC is poorly understood and little is known about the pathophysiology behind it. Some theories include:

  • A defective tissue layer in the bladder causing it to become easily irritated.
  • Overly sensitive nerves/pain receptors in the bladder.
  • Immune system abnormality where the body begins attacking itself (the bladder in this case specifically).
  • Inflammatory cells (mast cells) that release substances that can irritate the bladder.

Women are disproportionately affected by IC compared to men. In fact, women are 5 times more likely to have IC compared to men. All ages may be affected by IC, but it most commonly develops over the age of 30-40 years old. Although research is limited, it appears to affect all race/ethnic groups equally. Roughly 1-2% of the population is affected by IC. Patients with IC often have other pain syndromes including fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

IC can negatively affect patients in many ways. Patients may experience emotional troubles due to problems sleeping or issues being in intimate relationships. Social life may be impacted because of symptoms leading to withdrawal and isolation. These issues could result in depression consequently. 

Risk Factors for Interstitial Cystitis:

Since not much is known about the underlying pathophysiology about IC, risk factors are difficult to determine. Nevertheless, there is data that suggests some of the following may increase your chances of experiencing IC symptoms. These include:

  • Prior injury to the bladder or recurrent bladder infections
  • Fair skin and red hair
  • Having a family member with IC
  • Having another chronic pain disorder (fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.)

Interstitial Cystitis Symptoms:

Patients with IC may experience a variety of symptoms but they are often related to pressure on the bladder. The symptoms associated with IC may be constant or intermittent (fluctuate):

  • Frequent or painful urination
  • Pelvic pain or pain between the vagina and rectum
  • Lower abdominal pain, lower pack, urethral pain
  • Frequent and small urinations
  • Urgent urination
  • Pain with filling of the bladder
  • Excessive night time urination
  • Pain during sexual intercourse

Certain factors may make IC symptoms worse. These include: stress, certain food and drinks, exercise, sexual activity, and menstruation.

How We Diagnose Interstitial Cystitis:

Interstitial cystitis is difficult to diagnose because symptoms may resemble other conditions, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) and endometriosis. There are no current tests that can definitively diagnose IC. Instead, our urologists will rule out other conditions and potential causes for symptoms. A diagnosis may be made if symptoms are consistent with IC and have been present for at least 6 weeks. Some of the work-up our urologists may do include:

  • Medical History
  • Bladder diary: A written record of your urinary symptoms, tracking urination and how much fluid you are consuming.
  • Physical exam: In addition to a general exam, a pelvic or genial exam may be performed.
  • Cystoscopy
  • Urine test: To rule out infection or other abnormalities in the urine.
  • Biopsy: A sample of the bladder may be taken

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Treatment Options

There is not one universal treatment for IC. However, there are various treatments our urology team may suggest for you to improve your IC symptoms. These may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Diet changes
  • Lifestyle modifications
  • Medication
  • Nerve stimulation

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Learn More About Bladder Procedures

Interstitial cystitis, also known as bladder pain syndrome, is more common in women than in men.

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