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Interstitial Cystitis

Manage the symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis.

Lifestyle Changes and Medication Can Help

Persistent bladder or pelvic pain and an urgent need to urinate can be the signs of a urinary-tract infection. 

If no bacteria are present, however, you might have interstitial cystitis (IC)—also known as Bladder Pain Syndrome—a distressing condition that affects 3 to 8 million women in the United States, according to the Interstitial Cystitis Association.

Some people with IC experience periodic flare-ups. Others have persistent pain and need to urinate up to 60 times a day.

By visiting your health care provider, you can learn how to best manage your symptoms.


Along with the frequent urge to urinate, symptoms include:

  • Pain or pressure in the lower abdomen, urethra, the vulva or vagina.
  • Symptoms that worsen after consuming certain foods or beverages, such as spicy meals or caffeinated sodas.
  • Pain during or after sex.

Stress, trauma, surgery and diet can trigger the symptoms.

The cause right now is unknown. IC might be part of a syndrome with multiple conditions, much like fibromyalgia or irritable bowel syndrome.

Presently, there no lab tests to diagnose IC. Your health care provider will make the diagnosis after ruling out other potential health conditions, and when you’ve had IC symptoms that persist for at least six weeks without an apparent underlying cause, such as a urinary-tract infection.

If you have blood in your urine, your doctor might do a cystoscopy. During the procedure, the doctor inserts a small camera through the urethra and into the bladder to look for any abnormalities.

A cystoscopy with hydrodistention, performed while you’re under anesthesia, examines the bladder through a cystoscope and stretches the bladder to help alleviate some of your symptoms.

Your doctor can see if you have pinpoint-sized red marks on the bladder wall, also called glomerulations or petechial hemorrhages, or Hunner’s ulcers, which are areas of inflammation on the bladder wall. Both have been linked to IC.

You can make several behavior modifications, including:

  • Watching your diet. Avoid foods and beverages that irritate the bladder, such as coffee, artificial sweeteners, hot peppers and alcohol. Cranberry juice, which many people drink to prevent recurrent urinary-tract infections, can exacerbate IC symptoms.
  • Reducing stress. Consider yoga or meditation.
  • Undergoing physical therapy. You can do Kegel exercises on your own or seek a specialist in manipulative pelvic floor physical therapy, which can benefit people with pelvic floor dysfunction.

Medication that addresses the symptoms of IC includes:

  • Urinary analgesics to calm a sensitive bladder.
  • Elmiron to improve the lining of the bladder. (Tell your doctor if you are anticoagulants or high doses of anti-inflammatory drugs.)
  • Antihistamines, which can reduce inflammation in the bladder wall.
  • Bladder instillations. During an in-office procedure, your health care provider will use a catheter to deliver liquid directly into the bladder. You will need to come at least once a week for seven straight weeks in the office. More instillations might be required.

More advanced options are available if preliminary treatment is unsuccessful.

You may need one or more of these treatments, depending on your symptoms. To help you and your health care provider find the most effective mix, please review the American Urological Association’s clinical guidelines for IC.

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