Here’s a common picture of interstitial cystitis:

Severe bladder pain. Going to the toilet frequently – sometimes more than hourly. You rush there to get rid of the awful pain. Nothing seems to relieve the pain – except going to the toilet, for a little while.

The bladder controls your life. That’s the experience of women and men with interstitial cystitis.

Bladder Pain Syndrome (BPS), Painful Bladder Syndrome (PBS)), and Interstitial Cystitis (IC), are all pretty much the same thing. Almost six times as many women as men have it.

A word of caution: there are many different causes of bladder pain (start here)

Causes of interstitial cystitis are not fully understood. Like all complicated conditions, the cause is likely multifactorial. There are many different theories in the research: dodgy bladder lining (“leaky” and “wearing down”), chronic infection, hormonal/chemical imbalances, and bladder immune issues. Interestingly, hormonal contraceptives such as the Pill increase your risk.

Interestingly, interstitial cystitis has recently been classified as a “functional urological disorder”. This is similar to the way irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has been classified as a “functional bowel disorder” because of a lack of a clear-cut cause. In functional disorders and chronic pain, stress worsens symptoms as this study describes. By stress, I mean both physical and psychological. I am by no means saying it is all in your head, as much as you may have heard that before! Here, the nervous system often needs retraining. I hope you find my e-book useful to Retrain Your Brain, Outsmart Your Pain.

Interstitial cystitis is NOT the same thing as a chronic urinary tract infection (UTI), and does not have a simple, ”one-size-fits-all” treatment.

Medical treatment for interstitial cystitis is a bit hit-and-miss.

Sometimes oral medications are used (antimuscarinics/anticholinergics), but these are just treating the symptoms of frequency and urgency, not the cause. Also, they are unlikely to work in people whose bladders aren’t emptying properly, as this study showed. In fact, these drugs will make the bladder emptying problems worse.

Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) injected into the bladder is sometimes used, but the best dose and frequency of treatment is not clear from the research.

Cystodistension is the treatment I’ve seen used most often. This is where the bladder is filled up with fluid and “expanded” like a balloon. Despite being used so often, it’s actually lacks research support. At best, just over half will feel better after having it – and this is only certain patient groups.

Non-medical treatments are extremely important. In my experience, a combination of the following works best:

  • Pelvic floor manual therapy (specific massage-like techniques)
  • Nutritional medicine to address the underlying problems in the system that are promoting the symptoms
  • Recent research also supports the use of acupuncture for interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome.

Suffering with such a problem on your own is bad enough. Seeing a health professional for something so personal can be daunting. But please take the plunge and get in touch. You’ll be very relieved to get help at last.



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The A to Z of Your Pelvis

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