Recent research estimates that more than 4 million people in the U.S. suffer from symptoms of interstitial cystitis (IC), a chronic bladder condition. For most of them, staying close to a bathroom is a necessity. On average, a healthy adult urinates no more than seven times a day and seldom needs to get up at night to use the bathroom. Someone with a severe case of IC, on the other hand, may urinate as frequently as 60 times in 24 hours, including multiple nighttime trips to the bathroom.
Interstitial cystitis, sometimes called painful bladder syndrome or PBS, can cause discomfort similar to what you might feel with a urinary tract infection (UTI). But unlike a urinary tract infection that's caused by bacteria, interstitial cystitis cannot be treated with an antibiotic. That doesn't mean there's nothing you can do about it. Although there's no cure for interstitial cystitis, there are several treatment options and self-care steps you can take that will help manage your bladder condition.
Interstitial cystitis is a chronic inflammation of the bladder that causes chronic pain and discomfort. Symptoms often include a sense of urgency and increased frequency of urination. The bladder is a hollow balloon-like organ that collects urine from the kidneys and holds it until it can be expelled. The walls of the bladder consist mainly of muscle that relaxes as the bladder fills and contracts to empty it. The inside walls are covered with a lining of cells that protect the muscle from contact with urine.
Inflammation associated with IC causes the lining to scar and the bladder to stiffen, which affects the way the bladder expands. In about 90% of IC cases there are pinpoint spots of bleeding visible in the lining. And in 5% to 10% of cases, there are ulcers or sores known as Hunner's patches.
Interstitial cystitis causes mild to severe pain in the bladder and surrounding pelvic area. In women, the pain tends to worsen during menstruation. Women may also experience painful intercourse because of IC, and men may have painful ejaculations and erectile dysfunction.
In about half the cases of interstitial cystitis, the symptoms go away spontaneously. In nearly all instances, though, they return after an average of about eight months.
Who gets IC, and am I at risk?
Anyone can develop interstitial cystitis at any age. IC is most common, though, in women. It generally develops in middle age, and many people with IC also have other pain-related conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome or fibromyalgia.
Other than being female, there are no known factors that increase the risk for interstitial cystitis. Consequently, there is no known way to prevent it or to prevent the symptoms from recurring after it goes into remission.