What is interstitial cystitis and how can it cause incontinence?

What is interstitial cystitis?

Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a condition which results in pain and pressure within the bladder region. It can also be known as painful bladder syndrome or bladder pain syndrome. 

The condition tends to affect people mostly in their 30s and 40s, and is in fact far more common in women than men. Although it isn’t always clear what causes interstitial cystitis , it can certainly have a significant impact on your lifestyle if you leave it untreated. Read TENA’s guide on the symptoms of interstitial cystitis as well interstitial cystitis treatment  recommendations below.

Interstitial cystitis symptoms

The most common symptom of interstitial cystitis is acute pain in the bladder area. The pain tends to be accompanied by frequent, sudden and uncontrollable urges to use the toilet, occasionally leading to incontinence issues. As well as experiencing pain, people struggling with interstitial cystitis obtain urinary tract symptoms, lasting upwards of 6 weeks and without cause or infection present.

The pain associated with interstitial cystitis is typically felt within your pelvic area, just below your belly button although some women report pain in their vulva, and bladder pain in men is mostly felt in the scrotum, testicle and/or penis4. This pain generally worsens when there is increased bladder pressure  (i.e. your bladder is full), although more often than not you may experience short-term relief after emptying the bladder. As a woman, you may also notice that this pain is heightened when on your period and occasionally during sex.

You may also notice you’re using the toilet more than normal, often waking up and going during the night too. These urges may be frequent and sometimes lead to incontinence. If you are suffering from incontinence, then it is worth investing in some of our incontinence pads and pants. There are a wide variety of options for both men and women so definitely take a look at our full range of incontinence products.

Although some people will experience interstitial cystitis symptoms  frequently, others may only have them sporadically – it will ultimately differ from person to person.

Interstitial cystitis diagnosis

As mentioned previously, interstitial cystitis diagnosis is currently non-definitive. When visiting your GP, they may perform a series of tests to rule out any other underlying conditions, before giving you an official diagnosis1. They will be able to give you advice on how to tackle your own interstitial cystitis symptoms  and tailor this advice to you specifically.

Interstitial cystitis treatment: living with bladder pain

If you suspect you have interstitial cystitis, it’s important to see a doctor to ensure a correct diagnosis. While interstitial cystitis is an incurable condition, there are some moderate lifestyle changes you can make that may help treat your symptoms.
Try eating a highly nutritious and well balanced diet. Foods high in certain nutrients can help to strengthen your immune system and improve blood flow  5. Ensuring you’re eating the right variety from each food group is beneficial for all, but especially those suffering with interstitial cystitis. Try avoiding foods high in sugar and salt. Avoiding alcohol could be highly beneficial too6.
Another way to manage your interstitial cystitis symptoms is to wear loose clothing and have planned bathroom breaks – this way you can regularly relieve pain in the bladder area. If your symptoms are worsening and negatively impacting your everyday lifestyle, do reach out to your GP.
We help you feel well-informed about the causes, symptoms and treatment of interstitial cystitis. If you have interstitial cystitis and are concerned about urinary incontinence, then check out our guide on urinary incontinence  where we cover the basics. If you find yourself suffering with an irritable bladder, we also have more information on the symptoms and causes of an overactive bladder. But most importantly, be sure to speak to your GP if your interstitial cystitis symptoms  are affecting your day-to-day life.