The bladder is a hollow organ with a thin layer of muscle that stores urine. When your bladder fills up with urine, it sends a signal to your brain, telling the muscles to squeeze. In most people, these signals are not sent until your bladder is almost full. If you have interstitial cystitis, the signal to empty your bladder is sent more often or when your bladder is not very full.

The condition most often occurs between ages 30 to 40, although it has been reported in younger people.

Women are 10 times more likely to have interstitial cystitis than men.

The exact cause of this condition is unknown.

Interstitial Cystitis Symptoms

Symptoms of interstitial cystitis are chronic. They have a tendency to come and go with periods of lesser or worse severity. Common symptoms include:

  • Bladder pressure or discomfort (mild or severe)
  • Urge to urinate often
  • Burning pain in the pelvic area
  • Pain during intercourse

Many people who have long-term interstitial cystitis are also depressed because of the pain and changes to their lifestyle.

Learn more about products designed to ease symptoms of interstitial cystitis.

Diet and Lifestyle Changes

The food and drinks you consume can play a significant role in interstitial cystitis symptoms, particularly if you have been eating foods which are known bladder irritants. 

An easy rule of thumb for those patients who are having flares is to avoid acids, alcohol and salts, each of which can easily cause a wound to sting. Yet every individual has different tolerances to foods and interstitial cystitis patients can be very unique in their specific diet triggers.

The following represent foods which cause bladder irritation and/or interstitial cystitis flares.

Sodas (diet and regular) of any type: Diet coke- a quadruple whammy of carbonation, caffeine, NutraSweet and cocoa derivatives, four well known and documented bladder irritants. Taken all at once could be an IC patients worst trigger.

Strawberries and other acidic fruits: One of the most acidic of all fruits, strawberries can be deceptively healthy until in the bladder. Lemon, orange, grapefruit, pineapples and or plums have been known to inflame our sensitive bladders.

Chocolate: Yes we know that chocoholics will hate this one. But if you do your research you'll find that chocolate is one of the worst irritants for the body. It is know to contribute to migraine headaches and food allergies. Some recommend trying white chocolate as an alternative. But, wouldn't it just be better to avoid it all together for a while?

Alcohol: Do you remember how Bactine used to sting on small cuts? Well, just imagine how this would feel when done inside your body on far more sensitive tissues. That means that wine, beer, champagne and even wine sauces could be irritants. When in doubt, keep it out.

Tobacco: Could you quit if it came to a choice between IC pain and tobacco? 

Herbal Teas: IC patients can be sensitive to herbs, particularly teas that have many ingredients. If you're determined to continue, try experimenting with one or two ingredients at a time. That way you'll be able to tell if a particular herb irritates you.

Tomatoes, Tofu and some beans: Frequently found in some diets; tomatoes are 
very acidic and worth avoiding. Some IC patients rave about low acid yellow tomatoes as a good alternative. Fava, Lima & Soybeans are also potential irritants.

Spicy foods, food additives and seasonings: If it burns your stomach, odds are it's going to burn your bladder as well. Between the salt of MSG and the abrasiveness of the Nitrates found in prepared meats odds are you might feel much worse after eating these as well. Garlic however is usually okay.

Coffee: In a sensitive bladder, coffee has no competition (other than our #1 choice) for causing bladder irritation. Some can tolerate low-acid coffees, while others try teas. For the most sensitive IC patient, the best option for a hot drink in the water and honey.

Cranberry Juice: Otherwise known as the acid bomb when it hits the bladder cranberry juice may be the most frequent irritant in a IC patients diet. Recommended for consumption during urinary tract infections, Cranberry juice can be very difficult for an IC bladder to tolerate. If your addicted to it, at least dilute it by half or more.

You and your provider should discuss methods you can use for bladder training. These may include training yourself to urinate at specific times or using biofeedback to relieve pelvic floor muscle spasms.

Interstitial Cystitis Diagnosis

Your health care provider will look for other causes of your symptoms. These include:

  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Bladder cancer
  • Bladder infections
  • Kidney or ureteral stone

Tests are done on your urine to look for infection or cells that suggest cancer inside the bladder. During a cystoscopy, the provider uses a special tube with a small camera on the end to look inside your bladder. A sample or biopsy of the lining of your bladder may be taken.

Tests at your provider's office may also be done to show how much urine must be in the bladder before you feel the need to urinate and how well you empty.

Interstitial Cystitis Treatment

There is no cure for interstitial cystitis, and there are no standard treatments. Treatment is based on trial and error until you find relief. Results vary from person to person.

Learn more about products designed to ease the symptoms of interstitial cystitis. (link to pdf)

Medicine and Procedures

Combination therapy may include medicines such as:

  • Pentosan polysulfate sodium, the only medicine taken by mouth that is approved for treating IC
  • Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, to relieve pain and urinary frequency
  • Vistaril (hydroxyzine pamoate), an antihistamine that causes sedation and helps reduce urinary frequency

Other therapies include:

  • Over-filling the bladder with fluid while under general anesthesia, called bladder hydrodistention
  • Medicines placed directly into the bladder, including dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), heparin, or lidocaine
  • Bladder removal (cystectomy) for extremely difficult cases, which is rarely done anymore