Interstitial Cystitis (IC)

Interstitial cystitis (IC) is also referred to as painful bladder syndrome. Women who experience IC usually feel ongoing pain in their bladder and pelvic areas. They may also feel the constant urge to use the bathroom, even when they don’t have much urine in their bladder.

Medical experts don’t know exactly what causes IC. However, it’s possible that women with IC have a defect in the tissue lining their bladder, suffer from allergies or have an autoimmune disorder.

What Are the Risk Factors for IC in Women?

This condition is much more common in women than in men. You may also be more likely to develop IC if you:

  • Are age 30 or older
  • Have a chronic pain condition, such as fibromyalgia or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

What Are the Symptoms of IC?

Your bladder is a balloon-like organ in your pelvic area that stores your urine. Most people get a feeling of pressure when their bladder is full. That signal in your pelvic nerves gives you the urge to use the bathroom. 

However, if you have IC, those “gotta go” messages in your body don’t work correctly. You might feel you have to use the bathroom when you really don't, or when you only have a tiny bit of stored urine. Some women describe the feeling as similar to having a bladder infection. With IC, though, there’s no infection. 

Many women also feel pain in their pelvic region when their bladder fills up with urine. They may also feel pain during sex.

IC: Related conditions and complications

It’s important to see your Baptist Health doctor if you have symptoms of IC. Women who don’t get treatment for IC can develop:

  • Sexual intimacy difficulties: Pain during sex, as well as the constant urge to use the bathroom, can make sexual relationships difficult. Learn more about female sexual dysfunction. 
  • Small bladder: IC can cause the walls of your bladder to get rigid. Over time, that can reduce the amount of urine you can hold at a time.
  • Depression: Waking up constantly to use the bathroom can cause you to become sleep-deprived. Being in constant pain can also affect your overall mood. These factors can lead to depression.

How Is IC Diagnosed?

There’s no single test for IC. Baptist Health medical experts may run a number of diagnostics to determine what might be happening with your bladder.

First, your doctor will ask you about your medical history and your experience with bladder difficulties. They will also likely do a pelvic exam, and ask for a urine sample to check for a urinary tract (bladder) infection.

To get a thorough understanding of your condition, your doctor will probably request that you keep a bladder diary. After you return home from your medical appointment, you’ll keep detailed notes about your bathroom habits. Your doctor will want to see how much fluid you regularly drink, how much urine you release and how often you use the bathroom. 

Your Baptist Health doctor may also order the following tests:

  • Cystoscopy: A cystoscope is a long, thin scope with a camera. Your doctor can insert this tiny scope into your urethra (the tube that passes urine out of your body) to get a closer look at your bladder area. Unless your doctor is also doing a biopsy, you probably won’t need to be asleep (under anesthesia) for this test.
  • Biopsy: Your doctor removes a sample of the tissue in your bladder and urethra. You’ll be under anesthesia during this procedure, so you won’t feel anything. Your doctor and other experts will examine the removed tissue for bladder cancer or other medical conditions.
  • Cystoscopy with bladder distension: While you’re asleep, your doctor uses a cystoscope to completely fill your bladder with water. When your bladder is fully stretched like this, your doctor can look for tiny cracks in your bladder walls.

How Is IC in Women Treated?

Although IC can’t be completely cured, there are a number of long-term treatment options for IC. At Baptist Health, we may help you manage your condition with:

  • Medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Dietary changes
  • Stress reduction techniques
  • Bladder training/stretching exercises
  • Mild nerve-stimulation procedures.  

Surgery: A More Permanent Option

In cases where a woman is in severe pain that can’t be managed, surgery may be a “last resort” option. During bladder surgery, doctors remove part or all of a woman’s bladder. They then create a new way for the woman’s body to pass urine. In some cases — but not all — the woman will have an external bag for urine collection that she’ll need to empty throughout the day.

Next Steps with MyChart

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