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What Is IC?

Interstitial Cystitis or Bladder Pain Syndrome (BPS/IC) is a chronic pelvic pain disease directly involving and affecting the bladder. Interstitial Cystitis is regularly referred to as IC for short, and throughout this website, both terms will be used.  Common symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis include frequency, urgency, and pain.  Frequency is defined as having the urge to urinate many times during the day and night. This can be the only symptom in a person that leads to the diagnosis of IC.

Symptoms & Pain

Urgency is the immediate urge and need to urinate.  If a person can not go to the bathroom right away, urgency often causes pain, as a result of the bladder going into spasms.  Although a relatively small organ in the body, the bladder can cause severe and distressful pain throughout the entire body.  When the bladder causes pain in other organs or regions of the body, it is labeled as “referred pain.”  Many people suffering from IC experience referred pain up and down the back, in the kidneys, and down their legs, especially in the right leg and right knee.  Pain is typically centralizes itself in the lower abdominal, urethral, or vaginal areas. For more information, Click Here.

Associated Diseases 

Interstitial Cystitis overlaps several other diseases with its symptoms.  These diseases include: Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Vulvar Vestibulitis, and Fibromyalgia.  All of these diseases include irritation and inflammation of the genital area, severe abdominal and back pain, urgency, and frequency.  To complicate matters further, IC is not yet very widely known about or dealt with frequently in the medical community, so many are still not completely aware of the disease, its symptoms, and how to treat a person who comes seeking help or answers for his or her IC problems.

Consult A Urologist 

If any person is experiencing painful urination, frequency, urgency, and discomfort of any level when going to the bathroom or in between trips to the bathroom, he or she should make an appointment immediately with a urologist.  Once a urologist examines and evaluates the new patient and their symptoms, a urine culture will be taken and tested to check for any infection, blood in the urine, or any other abnormal conditions.  A patient experiencing pain in the genital region can certainly be suffering from a number of other diseases that are checked out and either eliminated or tested for, depending on what the doctor finds.  These other possible diseases and conditions include but are not limited to Bladder Cancer, Endometriosis, Tuberculosis, vaginal infections, kidney problems, or sexually transmitted diseases.

How A Diagnosis Is Determined

Interstitial Cystitis does not occur because of an infection in the bladder or the urine.  Instead, IC is caused by the bladder failing to produce its inner lining and exposing its nerve cells to the urine passing through.  If an infection is not present in the individual’s urine, a cystoscopy is usually performed with hydrodistention.  This procedure is done under general anesthesia and allows the doctor to look inside the bladder with a scope and camera to effectively make a general assessment on the current condition of the bladder, helping in treatment and medication options.  A cystoscopy is also used to locate any ulcers, which cause bleeding and constant pain.  The primary source and cause of IC is still undetermined.

IC in Medical History

Records showing strong evidence of Interstitial Cystitis dates back to 1870 with written documentation from Lawson Tait describing two cases of young women with bursting bladder ulcers and both experienced pain, dysuria, and urinary frequency.  In 1914, Guy Hunner discovered what is now named after him, “Hunner’s Ulcers”, and Hunner was a strong activist in pushing surgical excision of the ulcers as a best treatment option and relief provider. Hunner’s ulcers are the worst kind of bladder ulceration that an IC patient can have and the pain caused by them is tremendous and often unbearable.  Inflammation and painful irritation are caused by Hunner’s ulcers acting up and bleeding.

Coping with IC

Despite this disease being documented and treated since the late 19th century, there is still no cure.  Each person has different coping methods and strategies and every BPS/IC individual is unique.  Because the urine directly encounters the raw open nerves of the bladder, the BPS/IC condition demands that the diet be watched very closely, cutting down on acidic food such as pickles, spicy foods, and tomatoes, along with many other food items that cause bad reactions to an individual’s bladder.  Along with amendments to one’s diet, BPS/IC symptoms can be treated with ice packs (gel packs) to produce greater comfort and temporary pain relief.  Heating pads also help relieve pain and discomfort from referred pain in the back and in the kidneys.  Doctors also suggest bicarbonate sitz baths where the bath water is lukewarm and mixed with baking soda.  This mixture is said to relax the muscles, cleanse the area, and calm the bladder.  A regular sleep schedule and low stress level is always highly suggested by doctors to IC patients which is almost humorous to most who must work and live full-time lives on top of treating a chronic disease.

Medications for IC

Medications for this disease are limited, but Elmiron (pentosan polysulfate sodium) is the primary drug for Interstitial Cystitis.  Almost all IC patients take Elmiron orally on a daily basis and using the drug in bladder instillations is becoming more popular and useful.  The drug is inserted directly into the bladder through a catheter and is hypothesized to coat the bladder walls, creating a temporary bladder lining.  This treatment helps protect the bladder wall nerves from acidic urine, the bladder’s frequent visitor.  Other drugs that have proved to provide relief have included antidepressants such as Elavil and Zoloft, and antispasmodics, bladder analgesics, antihistamines (Allegra), and muscle relaxants.

Beyond oral medications, bladder instillations using DMSO have provided many patients with relief for a short while.  DMSO, an industrial solvent, is inserted into the bladder through a catheter, retained by the patient for a determined amount of time by the doctor, and then the patient is drained, hopefully feeling relief for a day or two.  Bladder distentions can also be performed by a doctor in which the bladder is stretched when filled with water under general anesthesia.

Interstitial Cystitis Association 

The Interstitial Cystitis Association (ICA) was founded in 1984 by Dr. Vicki Ratner, a sufferer of the disease.  The national association provides patients with updates about IC, breakthroughs with IC in the medical community, self-help tools, and primarily, support for all IC patients.  Hopefully with the NIH focusing on Interstitial Cystitis this year, more progress can be made to locating the primary cause and finding a cure.

A Normal Bladder Membrane

A Normal Bladder Membrane

An example of a BPS/IC ulcerated membrane

An example of a BPS/IC ulcerated bladder membrane

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