Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial cystitis is a chronic inflammation or irritation of the bladder and the surrounding pelvic area. People who are diagnosed with interstitial cystitis may experience mild discomfort, pressure, tenderness, or intense pain in the bladder and pelvic area. Also known as painful bladder syndrome, interstitial cystitis most commonly affects women.

Symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis

Symptoms of interstitial cystitis may vary and can flare-up irregularly. Symptoms may be mild or severe and may include:

  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Frequent urination
  • Strong urge to urinate
  • Incontinence
  • Discomfort while urinating
  • Pain during sexual intercourse

Over time, interstitial cystitis can also cause stiffening and scarring of the bladder and a reduction in the amount of urine the bladder can hold.

Causes of Interstitial Cystitis

The cause of interstitial cystitis is unclear, but some theories suggest that it may be a result of:

  • A defect in the bladder
  • An autoimmune condition where the body's immune system attacks the bladder
  • A substance in the urine that damages the bladder

Some researchers believe that interstitial cystitis may be caused by infection, allergies or that it may be a hereditary condition.

Diagnosis of Interstitial Cystitis

Since the symptoms of interstitial cystitis are similar to those of a urinary tract infection, it is frequently misdiagnosed. A correct diagnosis is typically made by ruling out other conditions such as sexually transmitted diseases, bladder infection and bladder cancer. In addition to a physical examination, diagnostic tests may include:

  • Urinalysis
  • Urine cytology
  • Cystoscopy

A bladder biopsy may also be performed so that the bladder tissue can be analyzed.

Treatment of Interstitial Cystitis

Because the cause of interstitial cystitis is not clear, no specific treatment option works for all patients. Treatment may vary depending on the symptoms as well as the doctor's and patient's preferences. Treatment options include:

  • Oral medication
  • Medication instilled directly into the bladder
  • Bladder training
  • Nerve stimulation
  • Surgery

Eliminating or reducing foods in the diet that are potential bladder irritants may also help to relieve the discomfort of interstitial cystitis. There is no cure for interstitial cystitis, and patients may need to try various treatments or combinations of treatments before finding relief from troublesome symptoms.

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