Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial cystitis is a chronic condition wherein the person experiences a constant urge to urinate due to pressure on the bladder. This condition also causes pain in the bladder and in the pelvis region, which is why it is also known as painful bladder syndrome. Cystitis signifies bladder infection. This condition is not caused by any bacteria.

Painful bladder syndrome or interstitial cystitis is generally more prevalent among women, as compared to in men. However, a few men and even a few children do suffer from this condition. Interstitial cystitis can be extremely distressing and debilitating. However, the severity of the problem varies from person to person. It is also possible that a patient may experience a lot of discomfort at times and during other times can experience relief. Unfortunately the condition is chronic and can be a lifelong problem. Treatment may provide relief and reduce symptoms but may not be able to completely cure the problem.

Symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis

The signs and symptoms of interstitial cystitis vary from patient to patient, but may often be confused with urinary tract infections. The symptoms worsen with time and the earliest warning sign is the constant urge to urinate.

The term “painful bladder” clearly suggests pain in the bladder and in the pelvis. This pain can cause a lot of discomfort. The frequency of urination increases greatly, while the output of urine itself decreases. The urge to urinate may be so strong and persistent that the individual may be forced to visit the toilet as much as fifty to sixty times a day. Urination may also be extremely painful. Sexual intercourse gets very painful.

These symptoms may appear all at once or may appear individually. Interstitial cystitis is also known to cause pain in the penis and scrotum. In women, the discomfort may worsen during menstruation. The symptoms are not always constant and could even change from day to day. Stress can also worsen the problem.

Since interstitial cystitis can be misdiagnosed as a urinary tract infection, it is important to rightly diagnose this condition. Frequent occurrence of UTIs must not be ignored. Different tools are used by medical healthcare practitioners to diagnose this condition. A complete pelvic exam, urine tests, potassium sensitivity tests, cystoscopy and a biopsy are common diagnostic procedures.

Research to bring about non-invasive diagnostic procedures is ongoing.

Causes of Interstitial Cystitis

The bladder stores urine and once it is full, we feel the urge to urinate in order to empty the bladder. Once the bladder is full, the pelvic nerves send signals to the brain and you then experience the urge to urinate. However, if you do suffer from interstitial cystitis the signals are completely mixed up and you will even experience the urge to urinate when the bladder is not full and this also explains the increased urge to urinate, despite the decrease in urine flow.

Sometimes this condition could also involve an autoimmune problem, wherein the body’s natural protective mechanism attacks the bladder, treating it as a foreign harmful element. If the lining of the bladder is leaky, then it can also cause interstitial cystitis. Sometimes the presence of mast cells also causes this problem. Mast cells are known to secrete histamines and this in turn leads to inflammation, swelling, pain and scarring. Some research has shown that toxic substances in the urine may also lead to the development of this condition. Genetic factors are also believed to play a role in the occurrence of this condition.

High levels of stress could also leave you predisposed to this condition. Although stress cannot cause the problem, it can definitely worsen the symptoms. Other risk factors include gender, age and other pre-existing health complications. Being a woman increases your risks of contracting the illness. People over the age of 40 are at a higher risk of suffering from a painful bowel syndrome. Lastly, chances that a person who suffers from an irritable bowel syndrome or fibromyalgia will also suffer from interstitial cystitis are quite high.

Remedies for Interstitial Cystitis

Different remedies for interstitial cystitis exist. There are no quick fixes or miraculous natural cures for the condition either however. Different treatment methods need to be tested before zeroing in on the appropriate remedy. More so, treatment will not help the patient recover completely. It will mainly help in relieving the painful symptoms. Oral medications, bladder distention, nerve stimulation and surgery are common treatment options depending upon the severity of the problem. Ibuprofen, antihistamines and certain antidepressants are commonly prescribed to patients. Elmiron is another medication that supposedly repairs the inner lining of the bladder and therefore keeps toxic substances in the urine away. This helps minimize irritation. Whatever the medication, it is important to be aware of the risks posed by the drugs and seek alternatives if the risks outweigh the benefits.

A cystoscopic examination may be performed and bladder distention may be necessary, with the use of a cystoscope to fill the bladder to capacity with gas or liquids. Sometimes medications are also directly introduced to the bladder through a medical procedure, in order to reduce inflammation and the frequency and the urge to urinate. Nerve stimulation is another method, using electrical pulses to relieve pain. Sometimes devices may also be introduced into the woman’s vagina or the man’s rectum to provide the nerve stimulation. Surgery is used as the last resort to treat the problem. Surgery is reserved for treatment if all the other options have failed. This is because partial or total removal of the bladder can lead to a lot of complications. Research on bringing out the best kind of medications is constantly being undertaken.

Home remedies and self-help techniques are relatively easy to follow if the problem is not too severe. Bladder training, which is, consciously visiting the toilet only during pre-timed intervals, is one home remedy. The person must also engage in meditation and other relaxation techniques in order to reduce stress. Smoking and alcohol consumption must be completely given up. Exercises, especially yoga and other stretching exercises are quite beneficial. Pelvic exercises can also reduce the pain and discomfort. A trained physiotherapist may be consulted to get a good idea of the exercises that can help.

Diet for Interstitial Cystitis

As with most other health conditions, a diet recommended for interstitial cystitis will be a well-balanced and healthy diet. Although research is still largely conclusive, findings do suggest that patients report an increase in the symptoms due to consumption of certain foods. These foods are stimulant or irritant foods. Foods containing caffeine, citrus foods, alcohol, nicotine, chocolate and foods rich in Vitamin C are believed to irritate the bladder. Therefore it is important to avoid or minimize the intake of these foods.

For this reason, colas, processed foods, spicy foods, oily foods, pickles, foods high in sugar and artificial sweeteners are a strict no-no. Since the intake of Vitamin C also needs to be controlled, the patient might have to avoid oranges, lime, tomatoes and other foods rich in Vitamin C. However there is no hard and fast rule about what is an “irritant food”. What may irritate one patient may not necessarily irritate another. Therefore each patient can determine what can and what cannot be consumed, by following an elimination diet. It would be advisable to consult your doctor and a dietician to establish a diet schedule. Diet modifications alone will not suffice however, and these efforts need to be combined with a suitable exercise or fitness routine.

Suggestion for Interstitial Cystitis

Along with conventional treatment methods and remedies healthcare specialists and caregivers can also explore alternative medicine such as acupuncture, acupressure, guided imagery, massage and biofeedback. Techniques from some of these alternative disciplines may be used to complement conventional medicine. Interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrome is a “painful” condition since it greatly affects the quality of life. It makes it very difficult for the patient to function normally. The support and encouragement of family members and friends is therefore extremely important.

The nature of the problem is such that it may be quite embarrassing and difficult to talk about openly. Family members and care givers need to be sensitized to the needs of the patient and should also be watchful for any deterioration. Psychotherapy for the patient as well as the family is recommended if the problem is severe and is causing problems in other spheres of life as well. Support groups may also help the patient to talk about his problems and meet other people faced with similar health conditions.

If the problem is very mild self-help techniques may be quite beneficial. However, even if these measures are futile it is important to seek medical attention at the earliest to prevent the problem from degenerating further.

Since complete recovery is almost next to impossible it is very important to help the patient manage and cope with the illness. It is possible that symptoms may subside for a long time and may reappear later. Adherence to long term lifestyle and diet modifications that are recommended can however help minimize the risk of recurrences.

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