What is Interstitial Cystitis?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a condition associated with the bladder. People with interstitial cystitis experience pelvic pain, difficulty with urination, and pain in the bladder as their bladders fill or empty. The cause of this condition is not known, and since people respond in very different ways to some of the treatments, some doctors have suggested that this condition should be known as “painful bladder syndrome,” reflecting the fact that it is a collection of symptoms which may be caused by different things, rather than a single disease. Whether one calls it interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrome, this condition can be very debilitating for people who struggle with it.

A urinalysis is typically used to help diagnose interstitial cystitis.
A urinalysis is typically used to help diagnose interstitial cystitis.

In patients who develop interstitial cystitis, the capacity of the bladder declines, causing an increased need to urinate. The bladder also becomes inflamed, which means that it can become painful as it empties or fills. Chronic inflammation can lead to scarring and lesions in the bladder, which cause additional pain to the patient.

Interstitial cystitis is often misdiagnosed as a bladder infection.
Interstitial cystitis is often misdiagnosed as a bladder infection.

This condition is often misdiagnosed as a bladder infection, and patients may be given several other diagnoses and treatments before their doctors realize the cause of the problem. Typically patients are diagnosed by process of elimination, with the doctor first testing the patient's urine for signs of infection, and then performing a cytoscopy to look into the bladder for signs of cancer, and a biopsy to see how inflamed the bladder may be.

People with interstitial cystitis experience pelvic pain, difficulty with urination, and pain in the bladder as their bladders fill or empty.
People with interstitial cystitis experience pelvic pain, difficulty with urination, and pain in the bladder as their bladders fill or empty.

These tests can be used to determine whether a patient's IC is ulcerative or nonulcerative. In patients with ulcerative interstitial cystitis, ulcers known as Hunner's patches are present in the bladder, and surgical removal of such patches can bring considerable relief. In nonulcerative IC, the patient has no ulcers in his or her bladder, although small markings known as glomerulations are visible in the bladder.

Interstitial cystitis causes the capacity of the bladder to decline and the bladder itself to become inflamed.
Interstitial cystitis causes the capacity of the bladder to decline and the bladder itself to become inflamed.

Some patients can manage their interstitial cystitis with medications, including pain management medications to reduce the pain associated with the condition. Electrical nerve stimulation has also been shown to be beneficial, by reworking the nerve pathways to limit the number of pain signals sent to the brain. Bladder distension or instillation with medications also appears to help some patients, by enlarging the bladder and soothing irritation.

Interstitial cystitis is a long-term condition where there is a need to pass urine frequently and painfully.
Interstitial cystitis is a long-term condition where there is a need to pass urine frequently and painfully.

Sometimes, a doctor may recommend surgery for interstitial cystitis. Another option is dietary changes, as some substances appear to irritate the bladder more than others. A patient may need to go on an elimination diet to determine which substances trigger bouts of pain and irritation. Once a list of dangerous foods and drinks has been generated, the patient can avoid these additions to the diet and reduce pain from interstitial cystitis.

A biopsy may be performed to determine the severity of a patient's bladder inflammation.
A biopsy may be performed to determine the severity of a patient's bladder inflammation.
Electrical stimulation may be used to address nerve pain caused by interstitial cystitis.
Electrical stimulation may be used to address nerve pain caused by interstitial cystitis.
Patients with ulcerative interstitial cystitis may benefit from surgery.
Patients with ulcerative interstitial cystitis may benefit from surgery.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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