Characterized by frequent – and often painful – trips to the bathroom to urinate, interstitial cystitis is essentially a persistent inflammation of the bladder. This condition can result in women having to use the bathroom as often as forty, fifty, or sixty times during a 24-hour period.

Who Gets Interstitial Cystitis?

Over 700,000 Americans have interstitial cystitis, and about 90% of sufferers are women. The disorder usually surfaces around age 40, and is associated with several other chronic conditions such as allergies, fibromyalgia (a condition marked by muscle pain and fatigue), vulvitis (pain in the soft tissue of the vulva) and inflammatory bowel syndrome.

A Disabling Condition

Interstitial cystitis is often seen as a disability because the pain can be nearly impossible to stand. Because of this, only about half of women with the condition are able to hold down a full-time job. Their quality of life, research shows, is similar to that of a person suffering from prolonged cancer pain.

What Causes It?

Studies have not shown a clear cause of interstitial cystitis. One idea is that it’s caused by a viral infection. Another theory is that it’s an autoimmune disorder triggered by a bladder infection. In those cases, cells that normally protect against infection attack the bladder lining instead – resulting in stinging, tenderness, redness and swelling (inflammation).

Unfortunately, there is no cure, but there are several therapies and treatments, that when combined or used individually, may provide some relief. The good news is that surgery is rarely necessary. And with increased awareness of the condition, doctors can speed up diagnosis, and researchers can study the development of the condition and move closer to a cure.

Even though there is still much more to learn about interstitial cystitis, doctors and clinicians know much more than they did just a few years ago. New research and developments are constantly being discovered. For example, the urine of patients with interstitial cystitis has been analyzed, and researchers have found that certain important healthy cells are missing from the urine. This discovery can lead to new treatments in the future.

Coping with Interstitial Cystitis

Because the condition can take both a physical and emotional toll on the sufferer, those who have it often need help dealing with the many side effects. One option is psychological counseling or therapy, especially if depression or anxiety is an issue as well. Another is a support group, which can provide valuable companionship and an opportunity to talk with others who experience the same problem.

Treatment

Treatment is mainly about relieving pain and reducing inflammation. The two key methods are oral drugs and bladder instillations — medications that are placed into the bladder via catheter. The treatment usually takes place in a doctor’s office, but in some cases patients can treat themselves at home.

Currently, there is no one therapy that will relieve all symptoms. Certain treatments can stop working over time, so trial and error may be necessary to find the best treatment. There is more good news – in about half of the cases, interstitial cystitis will disappear on its own.

With any chronic condition, it’s important increase education and awareness. Not only will this bring a feeling of control over the condition, but it also gives a sense of hope that one day, interstitial cystitis may become a thing of the past.

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