Interstitial Cystitis

(IC; Painful Bladder Syndrome)

Pronounced: In-tur-STI-shul sis-TY-tis


Interstitial cystitis is chronic inflammation of the wall of the bladder. Inflammation can cause scarring and/or pinpoint bleeding of the bladder wall. It can also lead to decreased space to hold urine.

The Bladder

The bladder
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Causes    TOP

Although the symptoms are similar to those of a bladder infection, there is usually no clear cause. Bacteria, fungi, and/or viruses are rarely found in the urine of people with interstitial cystitis. Possible causes include:

  • An autoimmune response that occurs following a bacterial infection of the bladder
  • A leaky inner lining of the bladder that allows irritating substances in the urine to come into contact with the bladder wall

Risk Factors    TOP

Interstitial cystitis is more common in women and Caucasians.

Other factors that may increase the chances of interstitial cystitis:

Symptoms    TOP

The symptoms of interstitial cystitis vary from person to person. They can also occur in cycles. Symptoms may include:

  • Urgent need to urinate.
  • Frequent need to urinate several times a day.
  • Discomfort, pain, or pressure in the bladder or pelvic area when the bladder is full, and relief when the bladder is emptied
  • Pain during and after intercourse or during orgasms
  • Blood in the urine
  • Depression
  • Pain in the vulva or vagina in women, or in the testicles, groin, or tip of penis in men

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Tests may include:

  • Urine test
  • Urine culture

Treatment    TOP

There is no known treatment to cure interstitial cystitis. Treatment is aimed at managing symptoms. You may have to try several different treatments before you improve.

Treatment may include one or more of the following:

Bladder Distention

Some people experience relief after a bladder distention, which is done during a cystoscopy.

Bladder Instillation

During bladder instillation, a solution is put into the bladder through a tube in the urethra. It is held for anywhere from a few seconds to 15 minutes, and then voided. There are several different types of solutions used. Some solutions coat the bladder, some solutions are anesthetics, and some solutions are thought to decrease the inflammation.

Medications    TOP

Mediations may include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Prescription pain relievers
  • Antidepressants
  • Antihistamines
  • Botulinum toxin A injections

Diet    TOP

There is no research linking diet to interstitial cystitis. However, many people find that changes in diet can help relieve pain. Different people have different foods that act as triggers. Foods commonly reported to aggravate interstitial cystitis include:

  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Alcohol
  • Acidic foods
  • Carbonated beverages

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)    TOP

TENS uses an external device that sends mild electrical impulses into the body. It has helped relieve pain and decrease the frequency of urination in some people.

InterStim Therapy    TOP

InterStim therapy uses an approved device. It has been reported to possibly provide relief in some people with interstitial cystitis who do not respond to other treatments. The electronic device is implanted into the sacral nerve roots of the spinal cord. Electrical impulses are sent to these roots in regular intervals. The impulses are sent to adjust the neural output of the pelvic nerves supplying the bladder.

While some have reported some relief, they appear to be in the minority. Doctors do not know yet what makes the device helpful.

Bladder Training    TOP

Some people are able to train their bladder to have better control by setting a regular, timed schedule for emptying their bladder. The amount of time between voids is gradually increased. Bladder training should be attempted only after pain relief has been accomplished.

Surgery    TOP

Surgery is used after all other treatment methods have been exhausted and the pain remains severe. Surgical options include:

  • Ulcer fulguration—instruments inserted through the urethra are used to burn ulcers with electricity or laser
  • Ulcer removal—instruments inserted through the urethra are used to cut out ulcers
  • Bladder augmentation—a segment of bowel is used to increase the capacity of the bladder
  • Cystectomy—removal of the entire bladder

Surgery is rarely done for this condition. Many people continue to have pain even after surgery.

Prevention    TOP

There are no current guidelines for preventing interstitial cystitis because the cause is unknown.


Interstitial Cystitis Association
Interstitial Cystitis Network


Women's Health Matters—Women's College Hospital


Interstitial cystitis. American Urological Association Foundation. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed March 8, 2018.
Interstitial cystitis—Painful bladder syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated May 31, 2017. Accessed March 8, 2018.
Interstitial cystitis (painful bladder syndrome). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: Accessed March 8, 2018.
Offiah I, McMahon SB, O'Reilly BA. Interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome: diagnosis and management. Int Urogynecol J. 2013;24(8):1243-1256.
8/18/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: Pinto R, Lopes T, et al. Ulcerative and nonulcerative forms of bladder pain syndrome/interstitial cystitis do not differ in symptom intensity or response to onabotulinum toxin A. Urology. 2014;83(5):1030-1034.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrienne Carmack, MD
Last Updated: 8/18/2014

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