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What Is Interstitial Cystitis? Symptoms of This Common Women's Condition

written by: Rochelle Connery • edited by: BStone • updated: 4/20/2011

What is interstitial cystitis? Put simply, it’s the bladder infection’s ugly cousin. However, interstitial cystitis is more of a condition than an infection that can be treated with a prescription drug. Find out what interstitial cystitis is and what symptoms you might experience.

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    Interstitial cystitis is a medical condition that largely affects women, although children and guys can get it as well. Although doctors have difficulty pinpointing exactly what it is and how to treat it, the general consensus is that it is a condition that comes and goes. Its symptoms are similar to bladder infections in many ways, but differ in a few others.

    Technically, this condition is caused by pelvic pressure on your bladder. Unlike a bladder infection, which can be treated and then forgotten, interstitial cystitis will recur many times in a woman’s life, as there is no sure cure for it.

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    Ruling Out Other Conditions

    Before ruling a condition as interstitial cystitis for sure, you need to rule out the possibility of kidney stones and urinary tract infections. Does your urine smell? Does your actual urinary tract hurt when you urinate, or is it just your bladder? Does your lower back feel sore? Answering yes to these might indicate something other than interstitial cystitis.

    It might be hard to differentiate where exactly the pain is coming from and what is affected. If your bladder burns when you urinate, you might not be able to tell if the bladder itself is in pain. In this case, it might behoove you to visit a doctor to rule out more common possibilities.

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    Symptoms

    What is interstitial cystitis as far as symptoms are concerned? In general, you’ll feel a lot of pressure and fullness in your bladder, even if you just urinated. In most cases, you’ll feel like you have to go to the bathroom even if you don’t have much urine in the bladder. You may or may not have continence problems, but if they’re not there for real, you might feel as though you’re about to lose it anyway.

    In some cases, you might experience blood coming out of the bladder. This is obviously a problem and should be checked out by a doctor right away. Many women will also feel pain during intercourse, but again, this does not necessarily point to interstitial cystitis.

    Doctors generally diagnose a patient with this condition after all other avenues, like kidney stones and urinary infections, have been ruled out. After all, this is a lifelong condition for most.

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    How to Improve Symptoms

    Avoiding certain foods can help you not experience the pain of interstitial cystitis so much. Many of the same things that irritate the digestive system and heartburn sufferers will also trigger reactions in interstitial cystitis patients.

    Many experts recommend avoiding things like chocolate, alcohol and caffeine in general. Acidic foods, like tomatoes and ketchup, are also triggers. Wearing loose clothes can also keep snug clothing from irritating the bladder area.

    Certain medications are available for interstitial cystitis, too, although most doctors will recommend starting out with plain ibuprofen. Always discuss a wide variety of treatments, especially the non-invasive ones, with your doctor before committing to any procedure.