If you are one of the more than 1 million women in the U.S. currently suffering from a painful condition called interstitial cystitis (IC), you may feel that relief is simply beyond your reach. Chronic discomfort and urinary urgency may dictate your daily activities and limit your goals. Often mistaken for other urinary and pelvic pain issues, finding an effective interstitial cystitis treatment can be difficult, but there are solutions available that really do work.
At Comprehensive Urology in Los Angeles, our urology specialists are skilled at not only diagnosing and treating female urological issues, we take a holistic approach to ensuring total health and happiness, no matter what urological condition a patient may have. We believe that women suffering from interstitial cystitis deserve the comprehensive care they need to live their lives fully, free of pelvic pain or discomfort.
What is Interstitial Cystitis
IC is a chronic neuro-inflammatory disorder that affects the bladder, urinary tract, and immune system. While men and women can be afflicted with the disorder, it most commonly occurs in women. IC shares many of the same symptoms with other pelvic or urinary conditions, such as urinary incontinence or bladder infections, but the main diagnostic criteria (which can be different among patients) include:
- Urinary urgency
- Urinary frequency
- Small bladder capacity
- Bladder and lower pelvic pain
- Hunner’s ulcers (patches of inflammation on the bladder wall on cystoscopy)
The symptoms of IC can vary widely among patients, which is why it can be so difficult to diagnose. In more severe cases, patients may experience hard bladders as scarring from frequent inflammation and ulcers makes the tissue stiff and painful. As such, the cause of interstitial cystitis is still unknown, but researchers suggest that interstitial cystitis may develop as a result of certain irritants in the urine, previous bladder trauma, mast cell activation (where substances are released such as histamine), as well as hormone fluctuations. These events are ultimately thought to result in the loss of the surface barrier in the bladder against irritants (urine and other chemicals) resulting in more inflammation and scarring.
Exploring Treatment Options
Since interstitial cystitis can have such a wide range of symptoms, there is no one treatment that works for every single patient. Depending on the patient and the symptoms, interstitial cystitis treatments usually take a combination approach in order to relieve urinary urgency, bladder pain, or urinary frequency. A trial and error approach is often needed to find out the best combination of interstitial cystitis treatments for each patient. The IC treatment combinations may include:
Many patients are fortunate to find relief with the help of pain relievers and other medicines, such as:
- Over-the-counter pain medication
- Topical pain relievers
- Narcotic pain medications
- Anti-depressant medications
- Non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Pentosan (Elmiron ®)
- Bladder instillations (medication solutions administered in the bladder)
Certain lifestyle, diet, or behavioral factors may contribute to the painful symptoms of interstitial cystitis, and therefore, making adjustments can help relieve discomfort or pelvic pain. Coffee, other caffeinated drinks, potassium-rich foods, and acidic foods can worsen the irritation in the bladder and lead to frequent urination and exacerbated IC symptoms. Many patients in Los Angeles are able to successfully manage interstitial cystitis by modifying their diets and avoiding certain foods or ingredients that trigger their symptoms.
Additionally, some patients are able to “retrain” their bladders to increase the time between having to empty their bladders. By regulating when to drink liquids and when to avoid them, patients can effectively train their bladders to hold more liquid for longer periods of time.
Lastly, tight or weak pelvic muscles can contribute to interstitial cystitis and trigger spasms of pelvic pain. Physical therapy has been known to provide much-needed relief by stretching and strengthening the muscles that cramp around the bladder.
Neuromodulation for Interstitial Cystitis
Electrical nerve stimulators can be used to relieve pain in the lower back, pelvis, and bladder. The devices work by internally or externally stimulating the nerves that connect to the source of the pain. Stimulating these nerves can help relieve pelvic pain and tension, at least temporarily.