Interstitial cystitis, also known as painful bladder syndrome is a chronic bladder condition most commonly known by pain and pressure in the bladder area. Symptoms mimic those of a urinary tract infection. When symptoms persist for more than six weeks, and there is no infection, and no kidney stones are present, there is a strong likelihood that interstitial cystitis is the cause. The bladder is a hollow, pouch-like organ that stores urine. When it fills up, it signals the brain that it is time to empty. People with interstitial cystitis experience these signals more often. They will feel pressure in the bladder that causes them to urinate smaller amounts frequently.

Frequent Urination

Frequent urination is a common symptom of interstitial cystitis. People who experience this condition may urinate as much as 60 times a day. The pressure in the bladder causes people to feel the need to urinate but the amount of urine expelled is quite small. Frequent urination can cause women, in particular, to experience secondary symptoms like vaginal irritation caused by near-constant exposure to urine and even toilet paper. Many people initially think they are experiencing a urinary tract infection, but if no infection is detected, the issue could be interstitial cystitis.

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Pelvic Pain

Pelvic pain can be attributed to many different conditions. However, in the case of interstitial cystitis, the pain is often felt most intensely as the kidneys empty urine into the bladder. As urine collects in the bladder, pain and—more commonly—a feeling of intense pressure occur. Typically, people will experience some relief from this pain and pressure after urinating. However, as this condition is chronic, the cycle invariably begins anew as the kidneys send urine to the bladder.

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Pain during Sex

People with interstitial cystitis commonly experience pain during intercourse. Women with this condition tend to feel the pain most intensely between the vagina and anus. Men experience intense pain between the scrotum and anus. Again, there may be many different causes of pain during sex, so it’s important to discuss this issue with your healthcare provider to determine if interstitial cystitis or some other condition is involved.

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Pain in Abdomen and Lower Back

Some people experience interstitial cystitis experience pain in their lower back and lower abdomen. This type of pain, again, could be associated with urinary tract infection or some other condition. If it is a urinary tract infection, it’s important to seek treatment as the infection might have spread to the kidneys. In the case of interstitial cystitis, this type of pain can be alleviated with treatment, but evaluation at a clinic is required.

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Bladder Pressure

While many people describe a feeling of pain in the area of their bladder, most experience a feeling best described as pressure. Bladder pressure occurs in interstitial cystitis even when there is just a small amount of urine in the bladder. People with this condition only feel relief from the pressure when they urinate. After urination, the person may continue to feel relief until the kidneys begin to empty urine into the bladder, causing the pressure to build again.

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Emotional Distress

Chronic cystitis and its symptoms can affect people mentally in different ways. Having to urinate frequently can interfere with work or other daily tasks. Chronic pressure and pain can cause a person to feel emotional distress as they try to cope with symptoms day in and day out. It’s important to remember that there are many different treatment options available to reduce the discomfort caused by this condition.

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Causes of Interstitial Cystitis

Medical researchers believe there are multiple causes for chronic cystitis. In some cases, an autoimmune condition could be at the root of the problem. Healthcare providers might suspect lupus or fibromyalgia, for instance. However, this condition can occur alone. Trauma to the bladder can lead to chronic cystitis. Ulcers or week pelvic floor muscles may also trigger chronic cystitis.

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Healthcare providers suspect that diet could trigger symptoms of chronic cystitis. People who experience this condition often find that certain foods cause flare-ups. Acidic foods, in particular, can trigger symptoms of chronic cystitis. Doctors often tell people to avoid coffee, tea, alcohol, soda, citrus fruits, spicy foods, and artificial sweeteners.

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Medical Treatments

Physicians may need to employ multiple types of treatments and therapies to alleviate symptoms of this condition. Some people respond better to certain types of medications than others, for instance. Many people require a combination of treatments. While there are many medications, other therapies like bladder distention might be necessary to alleviate symptoms in severe cases. Bladder distention employs water to stretch the bladder, a procedure that can lead to long-term improvement.

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Lifestyle Changes

Exercise is sometimes helpful for people with chronic cystitis. Your doctor might recommend a fitness plan designed to help reduce symptoms. Wearing loose clothing and making dietary changes can also help. People with this condition should cease smoking as it can lead to flair-ups. Managing stress is also important as stress can trigger symptoms and lead to greater emotional distress.

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