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Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial cystitis is a complex disorder affecting more than a million people in the United States.

Interstitial cystitis may also be known as:

  • painful bladder syndrome (PBS)
  • frequency-urgency-dysuria syndrome

Interstitial cystitis causes

The cause of interstitial cystitis is still unknown, but sometimes there are specific triggers such as infections or tight pelvic floor muscles. Researchers are investigating many theories to understand the causes of interstitial cystitis and to determine appropriate treatments. At Beaumont, we specialize in treating people with these symptoms through our multidisciplinary approach and our research studies.

Interstitial cystitis symptoms

The following are the most common symptoms of interstitial cystitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

  • frequent urination
  • urinary urge
  • feelings of pressure, pain and tenderness around the bladder, pelvis and perineum (the area between the anus and vagina or anus and scrotum)
  • painful sexual intercourse
  • in men, discomfort or pain in the penis and scrotum
  • in most women, symptoms may worsen around the menstrual cycle

Stress of all types may also intensify symptoms. The symptoms of interstitial cystitis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult a clinician who is specialized in interstitial cystitis for a diagnosis. Often people are misdiagnosed by clinicians who are not up-to-date with the research on this condition.

Learn more about the symptoms of interstitial cystitis

Interstitial cystitis diagnosis

Because there is no definitive test to diagnose interstitial cystitis, and symptoms are similar to other disorders, a complete history, and possibly a variety of diagnostic tests and procedures, may be necessary. Diagnostic procedures for interstitial cystitis may include the following:

  • urinalysis: laboratory examination of urine for various cells and chemicals, such as red blood cells, white blood cells, infection or excessive protein
  • urine culture and cytology
  • pelvic and pelvic floor muscle exam
  • cystoscopy (also called cystourethroscopy): an examination in which a scope, a flexible tube and viewing device, is inserted through the urethra to examine the bladder and urinary tract for structural abnormalities or obstructions, such as tumors or stones
  • bladder wall biopsy: a procedure in which tissue samples are removed (with a needle or during surgery) from the body for examination under a microscope; to determine if cancer or other abnormal cells are present
  • laboratory examination of prostate secretions (in men)

Learn more about the diagnosis of interstitial cystitis

Interstitial cystitis treatment

Specific treatment for your symptoms will be determined by your clinician based on:

  • your age, overall health and medical history
  • extent of your symptoms
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • your expectations and compliance with the treatment plan
  • your preferences

Currently, there is no one specific way to diagnose interstitial cystitis, and a variety of interventions can help minimize symptoms depending on the individual and their condition, making it sometimes challenging to treat. Treatments are primarily focused on relieving symptoms, and may include:

  • pelvic floor physical therapy
  • medications to alleviate symptoms
  • bladder instillation (also called a bladder wash or bath): the bladder is filled with a solution that is held for varying periods of time, from a few seconds to 15 minutes, before being drained through a catheter
  • bladder distension: a procedure aimed at increasing bladder capacity and interfering with pain signals that are being transmitted by the nerve cells in the bladder
  • bladder training: patient voids at designated times and uses relaxation techniques and distractions to help keep to the schedule
  • neuromodulation

Management of interstitial cystitis may also include:

  • Diet modification: Some clinicians and patients believe that alcohol, tomatoes, spices, chocolate, caffeinated and citrus beverages, and high-acid foods may contribute to bladder symptoms. Thus, eliminating these substances from the diet may help to eliminate some symptoms. Control of irritable bowel symptoms and constipation may be helpful also.
  • Smoking: Smoking is a major known cause of bladder cancer.
  • Exercise: Exercise may help relieve symptoms or hasten remission.

Beaumont's Women's Urology Center specializes in multidisciplinary care for women with symptoms of interstitial cystitis. We continue to do research to advance our knowledge in this field. The team is led by Kenneth M. Peters, M.D., who is internationally known for his work with interstitial cystitis and neuromodulation, and other urologic conditions.

Learn more about the treatment of interstitial cystitis