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Interstitial cystitis

Interstitial cystitis: What is it, who gets it and how is it treated?

Signs and symptoms of interstitial cystitis often mimic those of a chronic urinary tract infection, but this condition has nothing to do with bacteria. But just like a urinary tract infection, if left untreated, interstitial cystitis can have a long-lasting impact on quality of life.

What is interstitial cystitis?

The bladder is a hollow, muscular organ that holds urine. Typically, the bladder expands until it is full and then signals the brain that it is time to urinate. But for people with interstitial cystitis, these signals get mixed up. As a result, they feel the need to urinate more often and with smaller volumes of urine than most people. This chronic condition often causes bladder pressure, bladder pain and sometimes even pelvic pain. The symptoms may come and go because the pain is usually noted while the bladder is filling and relieved after emptying. The pain can fluctuate from moderate to severe.

“The causes of interstitial cystitis are not clearly understood,” says Richard Jadick, D.O., a urologist at Piedmont. “One common theory is that it is some type of autoimmune response or defect in the bladder lining that allows harmful substances in the urine to come into contact with the bladder wall. Whatever the cause, it is a painful reality for more than four million people in the U.S.”  

Who gets interstitial cystitis?

  • Gender. Women are diagnosed with interstitial cystitis more often than men. Men can have similar symptoms, but they are more often associated with an inflammation of the prostate gland.
  • Age. Most people with interstitial cystitis are diagnosed during their 30s or older.
  • Chronic pain. Interstitial cystitis may be associated with having another chronic pain disorder, such as irritable bowel syndrome or fibromyalgia.

What are the side effects of interstitial cystitis?

  • Reduced bladder capacity. Interstitial cystitis leads to stiffening of the bladder walls, which causes it to hold less urine. 
  • Lower quality of life. Frequent urination and chronic pain may interfere with everyday life.
  • Sexual intimacy problems. Frequent urination and pain may strain sexual intimacy.
  • Emotional troubles. The chronic pain and interrupted sleep associated with interstitial cystitis can cause emotional stress and may lead to depression.

What are treatment options for interstitial cystitis?

Treatment for interstitial cystitis ranges from prescription medication to in-office procedures to surgery. Treatment is something that is tailored for each individual patient.

“Unfortunately there is no simple treatment to eliminate the symptoms of interstitial cystitis, and no one treatment works for all patients,” Dr. Jadick says. “Finding relief may take months and be a process of elimination. Communicating with your doctor is the key to finding relief.” 

For more information, visit Piedmont Urology Specialists

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