What is Interstitial Cystitis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.


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