Interstitial Cystitis or Bladder Syndrome in Women

Interstitial cystitis affects approximately 4 to 12 million people in the United States itself. It is mostly women who have the condition, but interstitial cystitis can affect any individual, regardless of age, race, gender, or ethnicity

Interstitial Cystitis or Bladder Syndrome in Women

Interstitial cystitis affects approximately 4 to 12 million people in the United States itself. It is mostly women who have the condition, but interstitial cystitis can affect any individual, regardless of age, race, gender, or ethnicity

Interstitial cystitis (IC) or bladder pain syndrome (BPS) is a chronic bladder health issue. It is a feeling of pain and pressure in the bladder area. The pain can range in severity from mild to severe.It’s tough to diagnose, and though treatments can make life with it better, there’s no cure.

Because interstitial cystitis has such a wide range of symptoms and severity, most experts think it might be several diseases. If you have urinary pain that lasts for more than 6 weeks and is not caused by other conditions like infection or kidney stones, you may have interstitial cystitis. This disease can affect your social life, exercise, sleep, and even your ability to work. Despite this, you can still relax yourself with facts and treatments to keep symptoms in check.

Interstitial cystitis affects approximately 4 to 12 million people in the United States itself. It is mostly women who have the condition, but interstitial cystitis can affect any individual, regardless of age, race, gender, or ethnicity. Some cases of interstitial cystitis continue for over 2 years. People with ongoing interstitial cystitis progress to having hard bladders with pain and a low capacity for storing urine.

Interstitial cystitis is not caused by bacteria and does not respond to conventional antibiotic therapy. It can be a long and difficult process to correctly diagnose bladder pain syndrome. The disease affects individuals in different ways. It is important to rule out any other conditions that have similar symptoms to bladder pain syndrome, such as cancer, kidney problems, vaginal infections and neurological disorders. Bladder pain syndrome is often debilitating and can cause feelings of desperation and despair.

There is no cure for this condition and there is no one individual specific treatment that works for everyone. People who suffer from bladder pain syndrome need to investigate ways to help themselves manage the condition. Unfortunately, it is a case of trial and error for the patient.

What exactly is Interstitial cystitis?

Interstitial cystitis is a chronic bladder problem. Your bladder holds pee after your kidneys have filtered it but before you pee it out. This condition causes pain and pressure below your belly button. Symptoms can come and go or they may be constant. Interstitial cystitis causes urgent, often painful bathroom trips. You may have to pee as many as 40-60 times a day in severe cases. It can even keep you up at night.

The bladder and kidneys are part of the urinary system, the organs in our bodies that make, store, and pass urine. You have 2 kidneys that make urine.  Then urine is stored in the bladder.  The muscles in the lower part of your abdomen hold your bladder in place. Your bladder is a hollow, muscular organ that stores urine. The bladder expands until it's full and then signals your brain that it's time to urinate, communicating through the pelvic nerves. This creates the urge to urinate for most people. With interstitial cystitis, these signals get mixed up i.e. you feel the need to urinate more often and with smaller volumes of urine than normal.

Causes of Interstitial Cystitis or Bladder Syndrome in Women

Health experts do not know exactly what causes interstitial cystitis or bladder syndrome, but there are several theories, like:

  • A defect in the bladder tissue, which may allow irritating substances in the urine to penetrate the bladder.
  • A specific type of inflammatory cell, named as mast cell. This cell releases histamine and other chemicals that lead to interstitial cystitis symptoms.
  • Something in the urine that damages the bladder.
  • Changes in the nerves that carry bladder sensations so pain is caused by events that are not normally painful like bladder filling.
  • The body's immune system attacks the bladder. This is similar to other autoimmune conditions.

No specific behaviors are known to increase your risk of interstitial cystitis. Having a family member with interstitial cystitis may increase your risk of getting interstitial cystitis. Patients with interstitial cystitis may have a substance in the urine that inhibits the growth of cells in the bladder tissue. So, some people may be more likely to get interstitial cystitis after an injury to the bladder, such as an infection. Other possible but unproven causes include an autoimmune reaction, heredity or allergy.

Another causing factor centers on anti-proliferative factor, a substance that is found only in the urine of people with interstitial cystitis. APF appears to block the normal growth of cells that line the bladder and may hinder the healing process that follows any damage or irritation to bladder tissues.

Symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis or Bladder Syndrome in Women

The symptoms of interstitial cystitis vary from person to person. If you have interstitial cystitis, your symptoms may also vary over time, especially in response to common factors like menstruation, sitting for a long time, stress, exercise and sexual activity.

Symptoms of interstitial cystitis include:

  • Pain in your pelvis or between the vagina and anus in women
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • A persistent, urgent need to urinate
  • Frequent urination, often of small amounts, throughout the day and night i.e. up to 60 times a day.
  • Pain or discomfort while the bladder fills and relief after urinating.
  • Pain during sexual intercourse.

Symptoms severity is different for everyone, and some woman may experience symptom-free periods. Although symptoms of interstitial cystitis may resemble those of a chronic urinary tract infection, there's usually no infection. However, symptoms may worsen if a person with interstitial cystitis gets a urinary tract infection.

Who gets affected with interstitial cystitis?

Because there is no standard technique to diagnose interstitial cystitis, it is often hard to estimate the number of people affected. Interstitial cystitis is typically 2 to 3 times more in common in women than in men, and data have shown the risk of interstitial cystitis increases with age.

The current estimate is that 1 to 4 million men and 3 to 8 million women have symptoms of interstitial cystitis. But the difference between men and women may not really be as high as we think, because some men diagnosed with "prostatitis" or similar conditions with different labels may really have interstitial cystitis. At this time, there is no evidence that stress causes interstitial cystitis in the first place. However, it is well-known that if a person has interstitial cystitis, physical or mental stress can make the symptoms worse.

Interstitial cystitis can result in a number of complications, including:

  • Reduced bladder capacity - Interstitial cystitis can cause stiffening of the bladder wall, which allows your bladder to hold less urine.
  • Lower quality of life - Frequent urination and pain may interfere with social activities, work and other activities of daily life.
  • Sexual intimacy problems - Frequent urination and pain may strain your personal relationships, and sexual intimacy may suffer.
  • Emotional troubles - The chronic pain and interrupted sleep associated with interstitial cystitis may cause emotional stress and can lead to depression.

Treatments for Interstitial Cystitis or Bladder Syndrome in Women

  • Physical therapy - To help relax your pelvic muscles.
  • Amitriptyline - This drug controls bladder spasms. It’s the most widely used oral medication for IC.
  • Pentosan (Elmiron) - It’s not clear how this drug works, but it might help rebuild the bladder tissue lining. It can take a few months to relieve symptoms.
  • Hydroxyzine - This drug is an antihistamine and can be helpful if you have to pee a lot at night.
  • Bladder stretching - Slowly stretching the bladder wall with fluid may help relieve symptoms. If it’s helpful, the effect usually lasts less than 6 months. Repeat treatment may help.
  • Steroids - If you have ulcers called Hunner’s lesions on your bladder, a doctor may remove them, burn them, or inject them with steroids.
  • Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) - For people who haven’t found relief through other drugs, this drug is placed in the bladder with a catheter. It’s believed to work by fighting inflammation and blocking pain. Doctors don’t often recommend it because it may temporarily worsen symptoms and takes multiple doctor visits.
  • Retrain your bladder to hold more urine. For example, if you feel the need to pee every 30 minutes, try to stretch it out to 45 minutes.
  • Cut down on stress. It can be a trigger. Taking 5 minutes a day to do something for yourself can be a start. Stretch, read a book. Relaxation techniques, talking to a friend, or meditation may help.
  • Wear loose clothing. Tight clothes can put pressure on your bladder.
  • Do low-impact exercise. For example, walk or stretch.
  • Change what you eat and drink to avoid triggers. See below for examples of possible trigger foods and drinks.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Physical therapy or alternative therapies, such as guided imagery, massage, energy therapy, or acupuncture is beneficial
  • Bladder distention
  • Surgery to repair Hunner's lesions, such as laser surgery
  • Neuromodulation, such as the use of electrical nerve stimulators
  • Cyclosporine drug suppresses your immune system.
  • Surgery is required in very rare cases when nothing else works, this may be an option. This is a complex operation that diverts your urine away from your bladder.

Even if interstitial cystitis treatments don’t work for you, pain management using painkillers, acupuncture, or other methods can keep symptoms at bay.

Allie Leon, Chief Fun Officer

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