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10 Frequently Asked Questions About Interstitial Cystitis  

Navigating the intricacies of Interstitial Cystitis (IC) can be a journey fraught with questions, concerns, and a quest for reliable information. In this comprehensive blog, we’ve asked our team of urogynecologists the most frequently asked questions about IC that they get from their patients.  Here are a few IC FAQs:

  1. What is Interstitial Cystitis? 
  1. How do you diagnose Interstitial Cystitis?  
  1. How do you fix Interstitial Cystitis? 
  1. What does an Interstitial Cystitis flare feel like? 
  1. How do you calm Interstitial Cystitis naturally? 
  1. What can make Interstitial Cystitis worse? 
  1. How does pregnancy affect Interstitial Cystitis?  
  1. Can I exercise with Interstitial Cystitis? 
  1. Can you have sex with Interstitial Cystitis?
  1. Is it safe for women with Interstitial Cystitis to take probiotics? 

Whether you’re seeking clarity on its symptoms, potential causes, or effective management strategies, you may find the answers you’re looking for. Here are the most frequently asked questions about Interstitial Cystitis. 

1. What Is Interstitial Cystitis? 

Interstitial Cystitis, sometimes referred to as Bladder Pain Syndrome (BPS), is a chronic medical condition that impacts the bladder and the pelvic area. It’s characterized by a variety of distressing symptoms that affect each person differently. IC symptoms could include intense bladder pain, generalized pelvic pain, frequent urination, and a persistent urge to urinate, even when the bladder is not full. Read more about causes and symptoms on our blog: What Is IC?  

2. How Do You Diagnose Interstitial Cystitis?  

It can be quite challenging to diagnose IC. The physician has to first rule out several conditions that have similar symptoms, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs), overactive bladder, and many more.

Things that help doctors make the diagnosis may include: 

  • Writing in a bladder diary to record diet and fluid intake, and to keep track of symptoms.  
  • Conducting a urine test to find infection.  
  • Performing a pelvic exam to assess internal pelvic organs.  
  • Inserting a flexible camera inside your urethra for a cystoscopy to see your bladder lining.  
  • Removing a tissue sample during a bladder biopsy to rule out other causes of the bladder pain.  

Do I Need a Cystoscopy? 

Whether you’ll need a cystoscopy or not, depends on the recommendations from your medical doctor. Cystoscopy could be recommended in certain cases, but it is not required. A small percent of IC patients have ulcers in their bladder, and a biopsy is usually performed in these cases. The procedure can be done in-office. However, if you are concerned about pain, it can be done in the operating room with “twilight” anesthesia.  

If you ever receive a recommendation you’re uncomfortable with, you can always get a second opinion. You’ll quickly learn that when you have IC, there’s no one-way path to a solution.  

3. How Do You Fix Interstitial Cystitis?  

As of today, there is no cure for IC and no magical “fix.” Patients enhance their lives by focusing on ways to ease the discomfort from their symptoms.

A typical treatment plan for IC includes many different approaches, such as: 

  • Elimination Diet: Discover and avoid known trigger foods. Take a look at our guide on foods to avoid that might cause an IC flare.  
  • Bladder-Friendly Foods: Enhance your diet with vegetables and lean protein.  
  • Hydration Management: Stay adequately hydrated while avoiding excessive fluids close to bedtime.  
  • Medications: Prescriptions or over-the-counter medicines that relieve pain symptoms.  
  • Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy: Address discomfort through exercises that relax the pelvic muscles.  
  • Stress Management: Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and yoga, to help reduce stress that has a negative impact on your body.  
  • Supplements: Potent doses of clinically studied ingredients that nourish your body and target specific IC symptoms.  
  • Hydrodistention: Your doctor may recommend this procedure to stretch your bladder under anesthesia, resulting in temporary relief of symptoms. 

4. What Does an Interstitial Cystitis Flare Feel Like? 

During an IC flare, you can expect a surge in symptoms that can be intensely uncomfortable. The hallmark sensation is a sharp, burning, or stabbing pain in the lower abdomen or pelvic region. This pain is often accompanied by a feeling of pressure or fullness in the bladder.  

In addition to the pain,you may feel a notable increase in the frequency of urination. They feel an urgent need to empty their bladders constantly. Even when only small amounts of urine are passed, the urgency persists. For many women with IC, flares can make sexual intercourse painful. Flares can also be triggered by menstrual cycles.  

5. How Do You Calm Interstitial Cystitis Naturally? 

Naturally calming IC involves incorporating more holistic approaches into your routine. This focuses on reducing inflammation, managing stress, and finding ways to ease discomfort. Lifestyle changes, like diet, monitoring water intake, and stress-reducing activities, can be essential.  

Some people also find relief by adding supplements into their daily routine. For instance, Calcium Glycerophosphate and Sodium Bicarbonate are powerful responders that help to neutralize the acidity in urine. Probiotics and Prebiotics help good bacteria flourish in your gut and keep bad bacteria from thriving. Hyaluronic Acid and Glucosamine Hydrochloride (HCl) can help build and replenish the GAG layer.* 

6. What Can Make Interstitial Cystitis Worse? 

Several factors can make IC symptoms worse. That’s why it’s crucial to identify and, if possible, avoid potential triggers. Dietary choices play a significant role. Certain foods and beverages can irritate the bladder lining, such as citrus fruits, sodas, and artificial sweeteners. Additionally, dehydration or excessive fluid intake could lead to increased urgency and frequency of urination. Stress and anxiety also play a pivotal role in exacerbating IC. Stress can increase inflammation, muscle tension, and bladder discomfort.  

For women, hormonal fluctuations can impact symptom severity. IC patients often report experiencing more flares during their periods. Other underlying conditions, like a UTI, can worsen IC symptoms. By identifying potential triggers, individuals with IC can take proactive steps towards minimizing the impact of their IC symptoms.  

7. How Does Pregnancy Affect Interstitial Cystitis?  

When you have IC, pregnancy may lead to a higher risk of complications, such as hypertension or preeclampsia. However, IC impacts every individual differently. That means each person will have their own unique experience while pregnant.   

Pregnancy causes hormonal shifts by increasing the amount of progesterone within the body. For some people, this actually leads to an improvement in symptoms. For others, the growing uterus might put pressure on the bladder, which leads to increased frequency and urgency of urination. Your doctor may recommend a bladder instillation with hyaluronic acid to improve symptoms.   

8. Can You Exercise with Interstitial Cystitis? 

You can absolutely exercise with IC, but it takes a little consideration. Exercise is beneficial because it helps your joints and delivers a steady blow flow to your bladder. Consider low-impact activities, like walking, swimming, pilates, Tai Chi, and gentle yoga. Regular exercise reduces the amount of stress hormones in the body and increases the mood-boosting hormones.  

When attempting high-impact exercises, like strength training and strenuous cardio, practice caution and listen to your body. High-impact exercise tends to put pressure on your pelvic area and could lead to heightened discomfort. Try incorporating pelvic floor physical therapy into your routine. These are stretching techniques that aim to relax tight pelvic floor muscles and provide support.  

9. Can You Have Sex with Interstitial Cystitis? 

Yes, you can have sex when you have IC. Be mindful that certain positions may cause discomfort or exacerbate symptoms. You may want to experiment with different positions to find comfort. Additionally, you should ensure ample time for arousal and use lubricants, preferably ones without added irritants, to enhance your comfort during intimacy. Some women even apply local numbing medicine into the vagina before sex. 

With the anticipation of sex, some IC patients experience stress and anxiety, which leads to an IC flare. Employ relaxation techniques, like deep breathing and meditation, to focus on having a positive experience. Remember, each individual’s experience with IC is unique. Prioritize open communication to express your needs and boundaries.   

10. Is It Safe for Women with Interstitial Cystitis to Take Probiotics? 

For many women with IC, it can be a safe and potentially beneficial to take Probiotics. Probiotics promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which can influence the overall health of the urinary tract. By supporting a robust immune system and maintaining a balanced microbiome, Probiotics may help reduce the risk of UTIs—a common concern for individuals with IC. Be mindful of ingredients that may be combined with the Probiotics you choose. Some supplements include Cranberry, which could cause an IC flare.  Learn more information about probiotics and IC in this article.

Interstitial Cystitis can be a frustrating condition to navigate, but you’re not alone. The questions above are only scratching the surface. We hope you’ll let us embark on your quest for understanding with you. For more informative blogs, resources, and support, make sure to subscribe to our newsletter and stay up to date on the latest.