Interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome is a condition that causes long-term pain or discomfort in your bladder and abdominal area, along with urinary frequency and urgency. Healthcare providers don’t know what exactly causes it, but causes may include autoimmune diseases, allergies and issues with your bladder lining.
Interstitial cystitis, now known as bladder pain syndrome (IC/BPS), is chronic (long-term) pain, pressure or discomfort in your bladder area (suprapubic region). In addition, it causes a frequent need to urinate (frequency) and sudden urges to urinate (urgency) for at least six weeks.
Anyone can get IC/BPS. However, you may be at a greater risk if you:
Interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome is common. It affects approximately 1 to 4 million men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB) and 3 to 8 million women and people AFAB in the United States.
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Interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome symptoms vary among people. They may be mild or severe. They also may be constant or only appear occasionally.
If you’re a woman or person AFAB, your symptoms often get worse when you’re menstruating.
IC/BPS may feel different from person to person. Some people only feel mild discomfort. Others feel a lot of pain and sudden, frequent urges to pee (urinate).
Healthcare providers and medical researchers don’t completely understand what causes IC/BPS. They suspect that it may be related to certain medical conditions, including:
No, IC/BPS isn’t contagious.
There aren’t any specific tests to diagnose IC/BPS. However, a healthcare provider will order tests to rule out other infections or conditions. These tests may include:
You can’t fix or cure IC/BPS. However, there are many ways to treat it. The goal of IC/BPS treatments is to relieve your symptoms. Your healthcare provider will work with you to decide the most appropriate treatment. In some cases, they may even combine treatments.
Healthcare providers can’t predict how your body will respond to each treatment. You’ll go through a process of trial and error with various treatments to see how your body responds. Your symptoms may go away or they may become more severe. Even if your symptoms disappear, they may return later.
Interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome treatments may include the following:
Some people who have IC/BPS report that certain foods and drinks worsen their symptoms (triggers). Keep a diary of what and how much you eat and drink each day. Noting what you eat and drink before the onset of symptoms and/or a flare-up can help you learn what foods and drinks to avoid.
If you notice that acidic foods or drinks — citrus fruits, peppers, carbonated beverages, tomatoes — cause flare-ups, your provider may recommend taking an antacid with meals. Antacids reduce the amount of acid that gets into your pee.
Common foods and drinks that may cause IC/BPS symptoms include:
Your provider may also refer you to a dietitian to help you create the best diet to reduce symptoms.
Exercise and physical activity may help relieve your IC/BPS symptoms. Examples of exercises include:
If you have IC/BPS, stress may trigger flare-ups. Learning to recognize and manage stress may help alleviate your symptoms. You may need to talk to a mental health professional to help with this portion of treatment.
Your pelvic muscles hold your bladder in place and help control when you pee. Exercising, stretching and especially relaxing your pelvic muscles may help reduce IC/BPS symptoms. Your provider can help ensure you’re performing these exercises correctly. Many people work with a pelvic floor physical therapist to make sure they’re relaxing their pelvic floor muscles enough.
If you have bladder pain, it’s easy to get into the habit of using the bathroom as soon as you feel pain or urgency, even if your bladder isn’t full. Your body may get used to going to the bathroom often. Bladder retraining helps you overcome this habit by helping you hold your pee for longer periods.
To practice bladder retraining, keep a diary of how often you pee and how often you have the urge to pee. Use your diary to help you gradually increase the time between bathroom breaks.
The following oral medications may help treat IC/BPS symptoms:
Your provider will insert a catheter in your urethra up to your bladder. They’ll then fill your bladder with a mixture of medications that may include dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), a steroid and a numbing medication. DMSO is a liquid medicine that helps alleviate symptoms.
Your provider fills your bladder with sterile water to stretch out your bladder to increase the amount of pee it can hold. This may also calm or break the overactive nerve endings telling your brain your bladder is in pain. They’ll give you anesthesia so you aren’t awake and won’t feel any pain.
Nerve stimulation (neuromodulation therapy) helps regulate your bladder by reducing urgency and frequency. It sometimes helps alleviate pain in your bladder or abdominal area.
Your healthcare provider injects botulinum toxin (Botox®) into your bladder muscle through a cystoscope. Small amounts of Botox paralyze the muscles and help alleviate pain. You may need Botox injections every four to nine months.
Your provider may recommend more invasive surgery if you have severe IC/BPS symptoms and don’t respond to other treatments. They may remove part or all of your bladder (cystectomy).
In addition to treating the bladder and pelvic floor, your provider will consider other conditions, such as hormone imbalances, endometriosis or bowel issues that may be causing part of your pain.
It depends. Most people who have IC/BPS need treatment for their entire lives. If they don’t get treatment, their symptoms may return. They may even have flare-ups while they’re actively treating IC/BPS.
Some people respond well to treatment. Their symptoms slowly improve and even go away.
Talk to a healthcare provider. They can tell you what treatments may offer the fastest relief for your symptoms.
It may take several weeks or months before your symptoms start to improve.
Healthcare providers and medical researchers don’t know how to reduce your risk of developing IC/BPS or prevent symptoms from recurring. You may be able to prevent flare-ups by:
For many people, IC/BPS is a long-term condition. Your symptoms may be mild or severe. They may appear now and then or they may be persistent. Talk to a healthcare provider to help determine your outlook and the best treatment options.
The following tips may help reduce the length and severity of your IC/BPS flare-ups:
Schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider if you have symptoms of IC/BPS. A provider will order tests to rule out infections or other conditions that may cause similar symptoms. They may also recommend or prescribe medications.
See a healthcare provider if your symptoms are severe or don’t go away after treatment.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome is a common condition that causes discomfort in your bladder area and affects your frequency and urgency to use the restroom. If you notice symptoms of IC/BPS, talk to a healthcare provider. They can order tests to rule out other conditions and work with you to develop the most effective treatment plan.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/23/2022.
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