I once heard interstitial cystitis called “the fire down below,” and if you ask someone who suffers from the condition, they are likely to agree. Interstitial cystitis (IC for short) also goes by the very scientific name of painful bladder syndrome, and can affect men, women, and children alike, but it’s more common in women and has no known cure. IC causes bladder pain, pressure and pelvic pressure that can range from mild and slightly uncomfortable to severe and life-changing. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to fight the symptoms of IC and help keep flare ups from occurring.
Besides pain and pressure in the lower abdomen and bladder area, you may also have problems urinating, or have to go very frequently. Many patients complain of an urgent need to urinate and those with severe cases may visit the bathroom up to 60 times per day, but every case will vary from person to person.
Doctors aren’t completely sure what causes IC, but they suspect that there may be a problem with the inner lining of the bladder muscle that causes irritation and symptoms.
There’s not a cookie-cutter treatment for IC, and your doctor will have to treat your symptoms and adjust medications or other therapies as needed. Some patients go into a natural remission from time to time and may go weeks or month without symptoms. The most common treatments include:
- Medications: NSAIDS (anti-inflammatory medications like naproxen or ibuprofen) for pain. Antidepressants to relax the bladder muscle, antihistamines (like Claritin and Benadryl—yes that’s what I said) may reduce urinary urgency and the only FDA approved medication for IC—Elmiron.
- Nerve stimulation: nerve stimulation with a TENS unit allows patients to find relief from the pain and urinary complications of IC. TENS therapy involves the placement of tiny electrodes at the lower back or over the pubic area and they are turned on for short periods of time each day. These units block pain signals from reaching the brain by sending out other non-painful signals. The brain cannot process both at once, and may not register pain. TENS therapy is used for a variety of pain management needs.
- Surgical and invasive approaches may include cystoscopy with bladder distention, and the instillation of medications like DMSO into the bladder. True surgical procedures are a last resort and typically offer more risks than they do benefits for the patient. It is very rare for most IC patients to have surgery for their symptoms.
Are you tired of living with interstitial cystitis, or have new symptoms that need to be evaluated? Dr. Barbara Hessel of Forrest Hills, New York is a leader in women’s healthcare and wants to see you soon. Make your appointment today.