Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial Cystitis (IC) (also known as Painful Bladder Syndrome, or PBS) is characterized as pain in the bladder for more that six weeks without an obvious infection with other causes having been ruled out. It is estimated that 12 million people have IC with women being more commonly diagnosed than men, although some feel that men are often misdiagnosed with prostatitis instead.

What are the symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis (IC)?

The pain associated with IC can affect the bladder, lower abdomen, legs, low back, vagina, vulva, scrotum and testes. The pain can be constant or intermittent, and can vary in intensity and feeling. Depression and anxiety often come along with IC, as the pain can be quite debilitating and life-altering. Many people with IC are unable to stand or sit for long periods of time, will need constant access to a bathroom, and are unable to be intimate with their partners without pain. 

Symptoms can include:

  • Pain (sharp, burning, intermittent, constant) in the bladder, during, before or after urination
  • Pressure in the bladder area or perineum
  • Frequent and urgent urination (even up to 60 times a day)
  • Difficulty voiding urine
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Painful sex during or after (even the next day)
  • Blood and white blood cells in the urine
  • A history of chronic urinary tract infections

It's important to note that while IC is a chronic condition, symptoms can improve or worsen over time. Many people with IC find that certain triggers, such as certain foods or stress, can worsen their symptoms, and it's important to identify and avoid these triggers if possible. Additionally, it's important for people with IC to work with a healthcare professional to develop a treatment plan that is tailored to their specific symptoms and needs. This can include medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes. It's also important for people with IC to have a support system in place, whether it's friends, family, or a support group, as the condition can have a significant impact on a person's emotional and mental well-being.

How is IC diagnosed?

Diagnostic tests that may be used can include:

  • Pelvic exams to check for any abnormalities or signs of inflammation in the pelvic area.
  • Urine tests to check for any signs of infection or inflammation.
  • Potassium sensitivity test: In this test, a small amount of potassium is instilled into the bladder, and the patient is asked to rate their level of discomfort. A positive result on this test can help to confirm a diagnosis of IC.
  • Cystometrograms to measure the pressure inside the bladder and help to identify any problems with bladder function.
  • Hydrodistention: This procedure involves filling the bladder with water and then stretching it. It can help to identify any bladder abnormalities and can also provide some relief of symptoms.

It's important to note that the diagnosis of IC can be challenging as there is no one specific test that can confirm the diagnosis. Instead, the diagnosis is often made based on a combination of signs, symptoms, and test results. Additionally, as there is no known cure for IC, treatment is often aimed at managing symptoms, which can take time and require multiple visits to a healthcare professional.

What causes IC?

The exact cause of interstitial cystitis is not fully understood. There are several theories that have been proposed to explain the development of IC, but the true cause may be a combination of factors. It's important to note that there is no evidence that stress can cause IC. Some of the most commonly proposed theories include:

  • A defect in the protective lining of the bladder (glycosaminoglycan, or GAG layer) that allows irritants in the urine to irritate the bladder wall.
  • A chronic infection embedded in the bladder wall that is not detectable through traditional urine cultures.
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction, caused by muscles in the pelvic floor that are either too tight or too loose.
  • Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), where the body's mast cells release histamine and cause an allergic reaction in the bladder to certain foods or substances.
  • Nerve damage caused by injury, surgery or damage to the discs/nerves in the lower back that innervate the bladder.
  • Autoimmune diseases, where the body's immune system attacks the bladder.
  • An accumulation of oxalates, which are small crystals found in certain foods that some people have difficulty breaking down.
  • Hormonal imbalances, as some women with IC report an increase in symptoms during changes in their menstrual cycle.
  • Overgrowth of candida yeast in the body, caused by poor diet and antibiotic use.

Is there a specific diet that can help alleviate IC symptoms?

The IC diet is a specific diet that aims to reduce symptoms by avoiding certain foods and ingredients that are known to irritate the bladder. The goal of the diet is to identify and avoid foods and ingredients that may be triggering symptoms, as well as to promote a healthy bladder environment. The IC diet typically involves an elimination phase, where certain foods are removed from the diet for a period of time and then slowly reintroduced to see if they trigger symptoms. The foods that are commonly eliminated during the elimination phase include:

  • Processed meats
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Alcohol
  • White sugar
  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomatoes
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Spicy foods
  • Dairy

It's important to note that everyone's body is unique and what works for one person may not work for another, that's why it's essential to work with a healthcare professional such as a dietitian or a nutritionist, to develop a personalized dietary plan that takes into account specific symptoms and triggers. Additionally, it's important to be aware that certain foods or supplements that may be triggers for one person may not be triggers for another person. Therefore, it's important to keep a food diary and to work with a healthcare professional to identify personal triggers. It's also important to note that diet alone may not be enough to manage symptoms of IC, other treatment options such as medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes may also be needed.

How is IC treated in conventional medicine?

Conventional treatments for IC may include:

  • Medications: There are several medications that can be used to treat the symptoms of IC, such as pain and urinary frequency. These include antispasmodics, tricyclic antidepressants, and antihistamines. Some of these medications may have severe side effects and may not be effective in all cases.
  • Bladder instillations: This treatment involves instilling medication directly into the bladder. This can be done using a catheter or a special applicator. Medications that are commonly used for bladder instillations include dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and heparin.
  • Bladder hydrodistention: This procedure involves filling the bladder with water and then stretching it. This can help to identify any bladder abnormalities and can also provide some relief of symptoms.
  • Surgery: Surgery may be considered in severe cases of IC, but it is typically only done as a last resort. Surgery can include the removal of the bladder, but this is very rare and only done in severe cases.

It's important to note that these treatments may not be effective for everyone, and in some cases, the patient may need to try multiple treatments before finding one that works. 

How is IC treated naturally?

Ananta Health works with by assessing the patient's history and conducting testing with the BioScan SRT. It is important to screen for any stressors or irritants that the body may be struggling with and causing symptoms, such as candida, parasites, Lyme disease, post-viral syndrome, food sensitivities and allergies, poor diet, or environmental sensitivities. Treatment will often include diet recommendations, lifestyle changes and supplements and herbs according to each patient's needs.

How can acupuncture help IC?

Acupuncture can be an effective treatment option for IC as it can help to:

  • Reduce pain
  • Improve bladder function
  • Modulate the immune system
  • Relaxation

It is important to note that acupuncture may not be suitable for everyone, and it's important to consult with a qualified acupuncturist before starting treatment. Additionally, acupuncture should be used in conjunction with other treatment methods, such as medication, pelvic floor physical therapy, and lifestyle changes to achieve optimal results.