Interstitial Cystitis: the potential cause of your chronic bladder pain

02 August, Travis Simons - 

According to NHS England, in the UK alone an estimated 14 million people are living with bladder problems. If you have a pain in the pelvic region, it could be a sign that you are one of the many who are also suffering with a bladder condition.

If chronic, these pains pose a much more real problem and, whether chronic or not, treatment should be sought like for any other health concern as it can affect the way you live your life. Chronic bladder pain could be the result of having a condition called interstitial cystitis, also known as painful bladder syndrome or bladder pain syndrome.

What is Interstitial Cystitis?

Interstitial cystitis is a chronic condition caused by inflammation of the bladder lining, usually resulting in symptoms that include bladder pain. IC is most common in women, as 9 out of 10 affected are women. Unfortunately, there is not much understood about the causes of this bladder condition.

IC is often confused with the more common cystitis, but the two are not the same. While cystitis is an infection of the bladder that can be treated and prevented with proper hygiene, eating, drinking, and antibiotics, interstitial cystitis is chronic and is not an infection.

Because not much is known about the cause of IC, there is no known cure for the condition and treatment methods are focused on reducing the symptoms and pains.

What would I be experiencing?

Symptoms typical of someone who has IC include an intense and frequent urge to pee (in severe cases up to 60 times per day) and pain in the pelvic region below the belly button. You may also find that you wake up several times a night to pee. Because of these conditions, many with IC feel as if their lives are dictated by how far they can travel or how long they can be out without needing to use the loo.

How can IC be diagnosed?

Because there is not much known about what causes IC it requires several tests to rule out other possible conditions. A urine sample is needed to be analysed for signs of infection by bacteria. If there is no sign of bacterial infection, the possibility of having cystitis is ruled out. You will then most likely undergo a cystoscopy.

A cystoscopy is a procedure in which a very thin tube with a camera on the end is inserted through the urethra into the bladder. This camera is used to look for glomerulations, or haemorrhaging of the inflamed or irritated bladder. In 95% of IC cases this bleeding is present.

What about Treatment?

There is no cure for IC but there are treatment methods that can be used to try and relieve symptoms. These treatments aren’t effective for everyone, but can be tried.

Bladder retraining is training the bladder to reduce the urge to frequently pee by setting specific times during the day. This is done in the hope of strengthening the bladder muscles to help control the urge to pee.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, is another form of treatment that uses skin pads placed on the body to send small electric pulses through the body to help blood flow through the bladder, trigger hormones to block pains, and strengthen pelvic muscles.

Medicines can help alleviate bladder pain. Talk with your GP about what they would suggest to help control the pains.

Having a good diet is another form of treatment. This diet is more focused on staying away from certain types of foods. Patients diagnosed with IC have reported finding that staying away from foods that are acidic, spicy or sugary, as well as dairy products and alcohol help to control symptoms. It is worth noting that not all foods affect all patients in the same way so it may be best to find out which foods seem to affect your bladder.

Of course, it is also always recommended to stop smoking as smoking is linked to these symptoms.

Finally, a sort of “last resort” in treating IC is to have a surgical treatment done. This can either be to remove ulcers in the bladder that are causing the pain, or the complete removal of the bladder itself (cystectomy).

If you are feeling pain in the bladder region, we recommended you see your GP to diagnose the problem. Knowing about interstitial cystitis is the first step in understanding and being able to treat it.


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