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Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a disorder in which the bladder (the organ that stores urine before it is passed out of the body) is overly sensitive, and usual causes for this, such as infection, cannot be found. The major symptoms are:
The pain can be in the area of the lower abdomen, urethra (tube that carries urine from the bladder outside the body) or vagina. Sexual intercourse may be painful for women who have IC. The symptoms may range from just needing to urinate more often to severe pain and urgency. Work, sexual activity and normal social functioning can become difficult or impossible. The symptoms of IC may stay the same over time or get worse. Some patients may go into remission for extended periods.
The cause of IC is not known, but it may result from conditions such as:
IC is most common in women, but it also occurs in men and children. An estimated 700,000 to 1 million Americans currently suffer from the disease.
The doctor must make sure that other diseases are not causing the symptoms. Similar symptoms may be caused by:
To make the diagnosis, your doctor usually begins with a general examination, including a pelvic exam and urinalysis. The urine is usually normal, with no signs of bacterial infection. For a definite diagnosis of IC, a cystoscopic examination is usually necessary. In this procedure, the patient is put under general anesthesia, the bladder is distended (stretched) with water and the doctor uses a telescopic device (cystoscope) to look inside the bladder. The doctor may also take a biopsy (a small sample of tissue) from your bladder to help exclude other conditions.
At this time, there is no cure for IC, nor is there one effective treatment that works for everyone. However, most IC patients are helped by one or more of the following treatments:
This type of treatment involves stretching the bladder by filling it with water under general anesthesia, as is done in the diagnosis of IC. Certain medications are also used for this such as:
Eliminating certain foods, such as those that are acidic or spicy, may decrease the severity of IC symptoms. Also, cigarettes, coffee, tea and alcohol may irritate IC.
These techniques can improve the quality of life and reduce the incidence and severity of flare-ups. They include:
For a small minority of patients whose symptoms are severe and who do not respond to other IC treatments, bladder surgery may be considered.
Note: A small number of IC patients have a type of IC caused by painful ulcers on the bladder wall (Hunners ulcer). These can be treated using laser surgery, but this is the only use of lasers recommended for IC patients.
IC is a chronic disease. Patients may find some comfort in the fact that it is not life-threatening and it does not lead to cancer. However, because the symptoms are always present, patients need to develop coping skills to deal with them. Support and understanding from family and friends are crucial. For further information, contact the National Kidney Foundation at (800) 622-9010 or firstname.lastname@example.org and the Interstitial Cystitis Association (ICA) at (800) HELP ICA or www.ichelp.org .
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©2014 National Kidney Foundation. All rights reserved. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.