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Interstitial cystitis is a poorly understood bladder condition that causes long-term pelvic pain and problems with urination.
It's also known as "painful bladder syndrome" or "bladder pain syndrome".
The condition tends to first affect people in their 30s and 40s, and 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.
The main symptoms of interstitial cystitis are:
The pain may be worse when your bladder is full and may be temporarily relieved 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.
You should see your doctor 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 doctor can refer you to a hospital specialist such as a urologist (a specialist in conditions affecting the urinary system) for further tests, such as a cystoscopy (a procedure to examine the inside of the bladder).
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:
It's also been suggested that interstitial cystitis may be a symptom of a more widespread problem, as it's been associated with conditions such as fibromyalgia , chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) , irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and lupus .
Unfortunately, there's currently no cure for interstitial cystitis and it can be difficult to treat, although a number of treatments can be tried.
No single treatment works for everyone, however, and 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.
Lifestyle changes that may help improve your symptoms include:
You may also find it useful to contact a support group, such as the Interstitial Cystitis Association or the Cystitis and Overactive Bladder (COB) Foundation for information and advice about living with interstitial cystitis.
Tablets or capsules may be used to treat people with interstitial cystitis, including:
Some medications can also be passed directly into the bladder using a thin tube called a catheter . These are known as intravesical medications or bladder instillations.
Examples of intravesical medications include lignocaine (a local anaesthetic that numbs the bladder) and hyaluronic acid or chondroitin sulphate (medications that may help restore the bladder lining).
Some people also find the following therapies and supportive treatments helpful:
Surgery and other procedures may be recommended if you have clear abnormal areas (lesions) in your bladder or other treatments don't work.
Procedures that may be carried out include:
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.
This will usually be through a small hole in your tummy called a stoma, but might involve making a new bladder using part of your small intestine (bladder reconstruction).
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.