What is Interstitial Cystitis?
Interstitial cystitis, also called painful bladder syndrome, is a chronic inflammatory condition of the bladder wall characterized by pressure and pain above the pubic area as well as increased frequency and urgency of urination.
A healthy bladder expands until it is full and then signals the brain (through the pelvic nerves) that it is time to urinate. With IC, these signals get mixed up. Individuals feel the need to urinate more often and with smaller amounts of urine than most people.
Since there is no cure for interstitial cystitis, the goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms.
Who can get interstitial cystitis?
IC is most common in women. It generally develops in middle age and many people with IC also have other pain-related conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome or fibromyalgia.
The exact cause of interstitial cystitis isn’t known, but scientists believe there may be multiple causes including:
- A defect in the bladder lining that allows harmful substances in the urine to come into contact with the bladder wall
- An overproduction of histamine and other potentially harmful chemicals by mast cells, a special type of cell that normally protects the body from allergic reactions
- Changes in the nerves inside the bladder
- Some type of autoimmune response in which the body attacks its own organs and tissue
Symptoms of interstitial cystitis vary from person to person but can include:
- Bladder pressure
- Pain ranging from mild to intense in the bladder and surrounding pelvic region and perineum
- Frequent urination, often of small amounts, throughout the day and night.
- A persistent, urgent need to urinate
- Pain that worsens during menstruation in women
- Painful sexual intercourse in women
- Pain or discomfort in the scrotum or penis in men
There is no specific test for interstitial cystitis. Since other conditions can present with the same symptoms (including bladder cancer, chronic prostatitis in men, endometriosis, kidney stones, STDs, urinary tract infection, and vaginal infections), a diagnosis is made after other possible causes are ruled out.
These tests can include:
- A pelvic exam
- Urine analysis and urine culture
- Cystoscopy with bladder distention. A thin tube with a tiny camera is inserted through the urethra, allowing the doctor to see the bladder lining. Liquid may also be injected into the bladder to measure bladder capacity.
- Biopsy: A small sample of tissue may be taken during the cystoscopy to rule out bladder cancer.