Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a condition that causes pelvic pain, pressure, or bladder-related discomfort, often accompanied by increased urge to urinate or frequency of urination. It is not caused by infection, bladder stones, or other abnormalities of the bladder.
IC is also referred to as painful bladder syndrome (PBS) and bladder pain syndrome (BPS). IC can affect people of any age, race or sex, but it much more common in women than in men. It may be associated with chronic pelvic pain syndrome.
The exact cause of IC remains a mystery, but research has identified a number of different factors that may contribute, including:
- a chemical deficiency of the bladder wall
- past bladder trauma, including things such as pelvic surgery
- past bladder overdistention
- pelvic floor muscle dysfunction
- autoimmune disorder
- severe bacterial infection (UTI)
- hypersensitivity or inflammation of pelvic nerves
Most IC experts agree that IC is caused by multiple factors and is not a single disease.
Note: In recent years the relationship between IC and abuse (sexual, physical, and childhood sexual) has been hotly debated. Results of studies are conflicting: some show significant correlation, others no correlation at all. These findings are similar to what has been discovered about other pain syndromes, such as chronic pelvic pain.
Symptoms differ from person to person and may even vary in the same person at different times. Symptoms include:
- Urinary frequency: voiding more than 10 times in a 24 hr
- Urinary urgency: a strong sensation of having to urinate immediately, which can occur with cramps, pain, or pressure
- Pain: usually felt in the lower abdominal, vaginal, or urethral area. Pain may be associated with menstruation, exercise, or perhaps with sexual intercourse.
Symptoms typically wax and wane: people with IC experience times of relative relief punctuated by flare-ups. Flare-ups may be caused by fatigue, stress, certain foods, temperature change (cold), and numerous other triggers; there is no set length of time for which they last. It is possible to halt flare-ups by learning certain techniques.
For more information, see the Yale Medical Group's Interstital Cystitis online health resource.