Interstitial Cystitis

A Painful Bladder Syndrome

Interstitial cystitis, a painful bladder syndrome, is a chronic bladder condition in which a person feels pain or discomfort in the pelvic region. The bladder walls may be inflamed or irritated, and may be thickened or scarred. Interstitial cystitis can affect women and men, but is more common in women. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and can seriously affect your quality of life.

Female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery specialists (FPMRS) and pain management specialists can help you address pain or discomfort in the bladder or pelvic region, and manage symptom flare-ups.

What are the symptoms of interstitial cystitis?

The causes of interstitial cystitis are not yet known, but identifying symptoms and triggers can enable doctors to determine how to help. Symptoms may include:

  • Frequent urination
  • A feeling of urgency to urinate
  • Feeling of pressure in the pelvis or abdomen
  • Pain in the bladder
  • Pain in the abdomen that gets worse as the bladder fills or empties

How is interstitial cystitis diagnosed?

Our FPMRS specialists will talk with you about your medical history, conduct a physical exam, and may prescribe lab tests to diagnose interstitial cystitis. Often, this syndrome is diagnosed by ruling out other medical conditions such as urinary tract infections, bladder cancer, or endometriosis.

You may be asked to keep a bladder diary to record your symptom types, frequency and severity.

Diagnostic tests and procedures may include:

  • Pelvic exam — Your doctor may examine your pelvic floor muscles to determine whether muscle spasms may be causing pain.
  • Urinalysis — You may be asked to provide a urine sample to determine whether you have a urinary tract infection.
  • Cystoscopy — A thin scope with a tiny camera is inserted into the urethra so the doctor can look inside the urethra and bladder for signs of ulcers, cancer or infection.
  • Bladder biopsy — A small tissue sample of from your bladder may be taken to check for cancer and other possible causes of your symptoms.

What is the treatment for interstitial cystitis?

Managing a chronic condition like interstitial cystitis may include a combination of methods, including:

  • Changes to your lifestyle, for example, quitting smoking, changing eating habits, reducing stress
  • Physical therapy
  • Bladder training
  • Medication
  • Bladder procedures
    • Bladder distension (stretching) under anesthesia
    • Bladder instillation (placing medication in the bladder using a catheter)
    • Bladder Botox injection to relax the bladder muscles

Learning to avoid triggers that cause symptom flare-ups is an important method to managing painful bladder syndrome. Triggers may include:

  • Stress
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Menstruation
  • Holding in urine for extended periods of time
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Dehydration
  • Certain foods or drinks
  • Allergies
  • Medications

For More Information

For more information about pelvic floor disorders and incontinence, including definitions of terms, causes, symptoms, diagnoses and treatments, visit our Educational Resources page.