Interstitial Cystitis

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Interstitial cystitis (IC), also known as painful bladder syndrome (PBS), is a chronic and painful bladder condition characterized by inflammation and irritation of the bladder wall. It is a complex and often poorly understood condition that primarily affects the urinary system. IC can significantly impact a person’s quality of life due to its persistent discomfort and urinary symptoms.

The University of Kansas Department of Urology is dedicated to delivering quality care and employing the latest advancements in treatment. We collaborate closely with each patient to create a customized treatment strategy that considers their individual needs and objectives. Your comprehensive care team will work together to provide the most suitable combination of treatments for your specific disease and circumstances.

Types of Interstitial Cystitis

  • Classic Interstitial Cystitis: This is the most common type and is characterized by chronic pain and urinary urgency. People with classic IC often experience worsening of symptoms as their bladder fills with urine.
  • Non-Ulcerative IC: In this subtype, there is no visible ulceration on the bladder wall, but patients still experience symptoms like pain, urgency, and frequency.
  • Ulcerative IC: This subtype involves visible ulcers or Hunner’s lesions on the bladder wall, which can cause severe pain and discomfort. It tends to be less common but can be particularly challenging to manage.



The symptoms of interstitial cystitis can vary from person to person but typically include:

  • Chronic Pelvic Pain: A persistent, dull, or sharp pain in the lower abdomen or pelvic region, which may worsen as the bladder fills.
  • Urinary Urgency: Frequent and urgent need to urinate, often with only small amounts of urine passed each time.
  • Frequent Urination: Patients may need to urinate as often as 30 times a day or night.
  • Painful Urination (Dysuria): A burning or painful sensation during urination.
  • Nocturia: Frequent nighttime urination, which disrupts sleep.
  • Pain During Sexual Intercourse: Many individuals with IC experience discomfort or pain during sexual activity.
  • Incomplete Emptying: A feeling that the bladder is not completely empty after urination.


The exact cause of interstitial cystitis is not well understood, and it may result from a combination of factors. Some potential contributing factors and theories include:

  • Bladder Lining Defect: It’s believed that a defect in the protective lining of the bladder (the urothelium) may allow irritating substances in urine to penetrate the bladder wall, leading to inflammation.
  • Autoimmune Response: Some researchers suspect that IC may have an autoimmune component, where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the bladder.
  • Nerve Dysfunction: Nerve problems may play a role in IC, as many patients experience pelvic pain and urinary urgency, which are often associated with nerve dysfunction.
  • Infection or Allergies: While not proven, some cases of IC may be triggered or exacerbated by infections or allergies.
  • Genetic Predisposition: There may be a genetic predisposition to IC, as it sometimes runs in families.
  • Chronic Inflammation: Chronic inflammation in the pelvic region or elsewhere in the body may contribute to the development of IC.

It’s essential for individuals experiencing symptoms of interstitial cystitis to seek medical evaluation and diagnosis. Treatment options may include dietary modifications, medications to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation, physical therapy, and in some cases, bladder instillations or surgery.

Management strategies are often tailored to the specific needs of each patient and may involve a combination of approaches to improve their quality of life.


Diagnosing interstitial cystitis (IC) can be challenging because its symptoms can overlap with other urologic and pelvic conditions. Here are some common diagnostic methods and screening procedures:

  • Medical History and Physical Examination: Your healthcare provider will start by taking a detailed medical history and performing a physical examination to understand your symptoms and rule out other potential causes.
  • Symptom Assessment: The diagnosis often relies on the characteristic symptoms of IC, such as chronic pelvic pain, urinary urgency, and frequency.
  • Urinalysis: A urinalysis is performed to rule out urinary tract infections or other urinary abnormalities that could be contributing to your symptoms.
  • Cystoscopy: A cystoscopy is a procedure in which a thin, flexible tube with a camera (cystoscope) is inserted into the bladder through the urethra. It allows the doctor to visually inspect the bladder lining for signs of inflammation, ulcers, or Hunner’s lesions.
  • Biopsy: During a cystoscopy, a biopsy may be taken from the bladder wall to confirm the diagnosis, especially if there are visible ulcers or lesions.
  • Potassium Sensitivity Test: In this test, a solution containing potassium chloride is instilled into the bladder to see if it worsens symptoms. A positive response can suggest IC.
  • Urodynamics: These tests measure bladder function and can help identify abnormalities in how the bladder stores and empties urine.


Treatment for interstitial cystitis aims to relieve symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life. The choice of treatment may depend on the severity of symptoms and individual response, but common approaches include:

  • Lifestyle and Dietary Modifications: Avoiding trigger foods and beverages (e.g., caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods), maintaining a consistent schedule for fluid intake, and managing stress can help reduce symptoms.
  • Oral Medications: Non-prescription pain relievers (e.g., acetaminophen) or prescription medications like pentosan polysulfate sodium (Elmiron), tricyclic antidepressants, or antihistamines may be prescribed to alleviate pain and urinary symptoms.
  • Bladder Instillations: Medications (e.g., dimethyl sulfoxide or heparin) are introduced directly into the bladder via a catheter to reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms.
  • Physical Therapy: Pelvic floor physical therapy can help relax and strengthen pelvic muscles, potentially reducing pain and urinary urgency.
  • Nerve Stimulation: Treatments like sacral neuromodulation (InterStim) involve implanting a device that helps regulate nerve signals to the bladder.
  • Bladder Hydrodistention: This procedure involves stretching the bladder under anesthesia, which may provide temporary relief for some patients.
  • Surgery: In rare and severe cases, surgery may be considered, such as bladder augmentation or urinary diversion.


The outlook for individuals with interstitial cystitis varies widely. Some people experience periodic flare-ups of symptoms, while others may have more persistent and severe symptoms. The condition can significantly impact quality of life, but with proper management, many patients can find relief and lead fulfilling lives.

Prevention & Management

While interstitial cystitis (IC) cannot always be prevented, there are strategies for managing the condition and reducing the frequency and severity of symptoms:

  • Dietary Changes: Avoiding known trigger foods and beverages, such as caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, and artificial sweeteners, can help prevent symptom flare-ups. Maintaining a consistent schedule for fluid intake and staying well-hydrated can also be beneficial.
  • Stress Management: Stress can exacerbate IC symptoms, so stress-reduction techniques like mindfulness, relaxation exercises, and therapy can be helpful.
  • Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy: Learning pelvic floor exercises and relaxation techniques from a physical therapist can alleviate pain and urinary urgency.
  • Medication Management: Adhering to prescribed medications and discussing any side effects or concerns with your healthcare provider is crucial for effective management.
  • Bladder Training: Techniques like scheduled voiding and gradual stretching of the time between bathroom visits can help improve bladder function.
  • Support Groups: Joining IC support groups or seeking counseling can provide emotional support and coping strategies.
  • Regular Follow-up: Keep regular appointments with your healthcare provider to monitor your condition and adjust your treatment plan as needed.
  • Alternative Therapies: Some individuals find relief through alternative therapies like acupuncture, biofeedback, or dietary supplements, although their effectiveness varies from person to person.


Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a chronic and often challenging condition characterized by inflammation and irritation of the bladder wall, leading to symptoms such as chronic pelvic pain, urinary urgency, and frequency. While there is no known cure for IC, there are various treatment options available to manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for individuals affected by this condition.

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