Interstitial cystitis is a bladder condition that causes long-term pelvic pain and problems with urination. See your GP if you have persistent pelvic pain or you notice a change in your pattern of peeing. These symptoms can have a number of causes, so it’s good to get a diagnosis.
About interstitial cystitis
Interstitial cystitis is a poorly understood bladder condition. It's also known as "painful bladder syndrome" or "bladder pain syndrome".
The condition tends to first affect people in their 30s and 40s. It is much more common in women than men.
It can have a significant impact on your lifestyle, work, emotional health and relationships. But a number of different treatments can be tried to help relieve the symptoms.
Symptoms of interstitial cystitis
The main symptoms of interstitial cystitis are:
- intense pelvic pain (felt below your bellybutton)
- sudden, strong urges to pee
- needing to pee more often than normal
- waking up several times during the night to go to the toilet
The pain may be worse when your bladder is full. The pain may be temporarily eased when you go to the toilet. You might also find the pain is worse during periods or after having certain foods or drinks.
The symptoms will often come and go in phases. You may have episodes lasting days, weeks or months where your symptoms improve, followed by times when they're worse.
When to see your GP
You should see your GP if you have persistent pelvic pain or you notice a change in your usual pattern of urination.
These symptoms can have a number of causes, so it's a good idea to get a proper diagnosis.
Your GP can refer you to a hospital specialist such as a urologist (a specialist in conditions affecting the urinary system) for further tests.
Causes of interstitial cystitis
The exact cause of interstitial cystitis isn't clear. Unlike other types of cystitis, there's no obvious infection in the bladder and antibiotics don't help.
In some people with the condition, the bladder is inflamed, ulcerated, scarred or stiff.
There are several theories about the possible cause of the condition, including:
- damage to the bladder lining, which may mean urine can irritate the bladder and surrounding muscles and nerves
- a problem with the pelvic floor muscles (used to control urination)
- your immune system mistakenly attacking your bladder
- an allergic reaction
It's also been suggested that interstitial cystitis may be a symptom of a more widespread problem.
It's been associated with conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and lupus.
Treatments for interstitial cystitis
Unfortunately, there's currently no cure for interstitial cystitis. It can be difficult to treat, although a number of treatments can be tried.
No single treatment works for everyone. There's disagreement about how effective some of them are. You may need to try several treatments to find one that works for you.
Lifestyle changes will usually be recommended first. Medications and other therapies may be used if these don't help, and surgery may be necessary as a last resort.
Your GP will talk to you about treatment options.
Lifestyle changes that may help improve your symptoms include:
- reducing stress – anything that helps you relax, such as exercise or regular warm baths, may help reduce your symptoms
- avoiding certain foods or drinks (such as tomatoes and alcohol) if you notice they make your symptoms worse – but don't make significant changes to your diet without seeking medical advice first
- stopping smoking – the chemicals you breathe in while smoking may irritate your bladder
- controlling how much you drink – try to reduce the amount you drink before going to bed
- planned toilet breaks – taking regular planned toilet breaks may help stop your bladder becoming too full
Tablets or capsules may be used to treat people with interstitial cystitis, including:
- over-the-counter painkillers – such as paracetamol and ibuprofen
- over-the-counter antihistamines - you can ask your pharmacist if you need advice
- stronger painkillers available on prescription
Supportive therapies and treatments
Some people also find the following therapies and supportive treatments helpful:
- physiotherapy– massaging the pelvic floor muscles may help reduce any strain on your bladder
- bladder retraining – where you gradually learn to be able to hold more urine in your bladder before needing to go to the toilet
- psychological therapy – to help you cope with your symptoms and their impact on your life
- transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) – where a small battery-operated device is used to relieve pain by sending electrical impulses into your body
Surgery and procedures
Surgery and other procedures may be recommended if you have clear abnormal areas (lesions) in your bladder or other treatments don't work.
In very rare cases, it may be necessary to remove the bladder completely (cystectomy). If this is done, your surgeon will need to create an alternative way for urine to leave your body.
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.