Interstitial Cystitis Facts

Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a complex, chronic disorder characterized by an inflamed or irritated bladder wall in the absence of bacteria or infection.

IC can lead to scarring and stiffening of the bladder, decreased bladder capacity, and pinpoint bleeding, called glomerulations. IC may also be known as painful bladder syndrome or frequency-urgency-dysuria syndrome.

The cause of IC is still unknown. Researchers are investigating many theories to understand the cause and to find the right treatments. Because there is no definitive test to diagnose IC, and because symptoms of IC are similar to other urinary disorders, a variety of tests and procedures may be needed to make a diagnosis. In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, diagnostic procedures may include the following:

  • Urinalysis: Urine is examined for various cells and chemicals, such as red blood cells, white blood cells, infection, or excessive protein.

  • Urine culture and cytology

  • Cystoscopy (also called cystourethroscopy): A flexible tube and viewing device is inserted through the urethra to examine the bladder and urinary tract for abnormalities or obstructions, such as tumors or stones.

  • Bladder wall biopsy: Tissue samples are removed (with a needle or during surgery) for examination under a microscope to determine if cancer or other abnormal cells are present.

  • Lab examination of prostate secretions (in men)

There is no cure for IC, and it can be difficult to treat. It does not respond to antibiotic medication. Treatments are mainly focused on relieving symptoms. Options include:

  • Oral and bladder medications

  • Bladder distention, in which a doctor fills up or stretches the bladder to capacity

  • Electrical nerve stimulation, in which a doctor uses mild electrical pulses to stimulate the nerves to the bladder

  • Bladder retraining, in which a person learns to urinate at designated times and uses relaxation techniques and distractions to help keep to the schedule

Lifestyle changes may help manage IC symptoms as well. Proven techniques include modifying your diet, quitting smoking, and doing certain kinds of exercises and stretches. 

Medical Reviewer: Susan Shaw, MD Last Annual Review Date: 2010-08-31T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: © 2000-2011 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

Reference: Kidneys and the Urinary System section on Better Medicine


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Interstitial cystitis affects as many as 8 million U.S. women.