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Interstitial Cystitis

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.

What causes interstitial cystitis?

No one knows what causes interstitial cystitis. In fact, because IC varies from person to person, scientists believe there may be multiple causes, including:

  • A defect in the bladder lining that allows harmful substances in the urine to come into contact with the bladder wall
  • An overproduction of histamine and other potentially harmful chemicals by mast cells, a special type of cell that normally protects the body from allergic reactions
  • Changes in the nerves inside the bladder
  • Some type of autoimmune response in which the body attacks its own organs and tissue

The urine of people with IC contains a substance known as antiproliferative-factor or APF. APF appears to block the development of cells in the bladder lining. This leads scientists to think that some people are predisposed to get interstitial cystitis after an injury, such as an infection, to the bladder.

What are the symptoms of interstitial cystitis?

Symptoms of interstitial cystitis vary from individual to individual. Some people may have only a mild sense of urgency while others have multiple symptoms. Any of the following symptoms could indicate the presence of IC:

  • Pain ranging from mild to intense in the bladder and surrounding pelvic region and perineum -- the area between the anus and vagina in women and the anus and scrotum in men
  • Urgent need to urinate, even if only small amounts of urine are present
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Pain that worsens during menstruation in women
  • Painful sexual intercourse in women
  • Pain or discomfort in the scrotum or penis in men

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