There are many reasons people may experience bladder pain, but one of the most common is interstitial cystitis (IC). A chronic and painful condition, interstitial cystitis is also known as bladder pain syndrome and painful bladder syndrome.
At The University of Kansas Health System, our team provides specialized care for those suffering from interstitial cystitis and other chronic pelvic pain syndromes. We offer a full range of diagnostic procedures and treatments for bladder pain and interstitial cystitis. We also organized a support group for men and women who are diagnosed with interstitial cystitis along with their friends and family members.
What is painful bladder syndrome?
Bladder pain syndrome is a condition that leads to bladder pain, feelings of pressure on the bladder or causes other discomfort. Bladder pain can occur due to several possible causes, including recurrent urinary tract infections and bladder cancer. However, interstitial cystitis is one of the most frequently diagnosed reasons for bladder pain.
Interstitial cystitis is a chronic inflammatory condition of the urinary bladder. It is often associated with significant urination problems, including urinary urgency and frequency as well as pelvic pain. A wide range of therapies is available to treat those who are diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, including dietary modification, medication and surgery.
Bladder pain symptoms and risks
People with interstitial cystitis often have problems with pelvic pain, which can negatively affect daily activities like urination and exercise as well as sexual health. Symptoms of interstitial cystitis may be similar to a urinary tract infection:
- Chronic pain in the bladder or pelvic area
- Discomfort if not urinating
- Frequent urination
- Pain in the bladder area (located just below the bikini line)
- Pain or discomfort during urination
These symptoms may come and go, including experiencing times that you are pain-free. However, while the symptoms of interstitial cystitis may mimic those of a urinary tract infection, no underlying infection usually exists. If a urinary tract infection occurs at the same time as interstitial cystitis, symptoms get worse. Unlike a urinary tract infection, symptoms of interstitial cystitis do not go away after taking antibiotics.
The exact reason for interstitial cystitis is not known. Differences in the bladder lining may be a contributing factor. Although interstitial cystitis occurs in both men and women, it affects a significantly larger percentage of women. Other possible risk factors for interstitial cystitis include:
- Being diagnosed with a different chronic pain disorder, like fibromyalgia or irritable bowel syndrome
- Being over 30
- Having red hair and fair skin
Bladder pain diagnosis and screening
Diagnosis of interstitial cystitis can be challenging. Many people with interstitial cystitis present with complaints of chronic pelvic pain as well. Due to the many potential causes of pain in the lower pelvis, the diagnosis may be harder to determine in these cases.
To properly identify the cause of your bladder pain, your doctor may use one or several diagnostic tools:
- A urine test to check for an underlying infection
- Biopsy to examine a small tissue sample taken from the bladder wall
- Complete medical history
- Cystoscopy, a brief procedure performed commonly in the office to examine the bladder and urethra using a camera
- Physical evaluation, including a pelvic exam
- Potassium sensitivity test to measure whether pain response is higher to potassium compared to regular water
Your doctor may also ask you to keep a bladder diary to track your fluid intake and urine volume.
Bladder pain treatment
No standardized treatment exists for the management of interstitial cystitis symptoms. Treatment often begins with dietary modification to identify dietary triggers that could potentially impact your bladder. Caffeine is known to flare bladder symptoms. For some, tomatoes and/or citrus fruits can also have an effect, but not every person has dietary triggers.
There are several other treatment options to relieve pain from interstitial cystitis, and not every approach works for everyone. Sometimes, a combination approach is the best option for how to get rid of bladder pain. Your doctor may recommend one or several treatments for your interstitial cystitis:
- Bladder distention
- Bladder instillation (filling the bladder with medication to help relieve discomfort)
- Nerve stimulation
- Over-the-counter medication
- Physical therapy
The right approach to managing chronic bladder pain can help you recover from the debilitating pain to improve your quality of life.