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What is interstitial cystitis and how can it cause incontinence?

Mum and son dressing up

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. This 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.

IC 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 symptoms and cater this advice to you specifically.

IC typically affects women in their 30s or 40s2, but it can also affect men3.


Other symptoms of interstitial cystitis

As well as having the frequent and painful urges mentioned above, ranging from mild to severe, IC has other symptoms which can affect day-to-day life.

The pain associated with IC is typically felt within your pelvic area, just below your belly button although some women report pain in their vulva, and men report pain in their scrotum, testicle and/or penis4. This pain generally worsens when the 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.

Although certain people with IC may experience these symptoms frequently, others may only have them sporadically – it will ultimately differ from person to person.


Living with interstitial cystitis and bladder pain

Unfortunately IC is an incurable condition, but there are some moderate life style changes you can make that may help improve your symptoms.

Try eating a highly nutritious and well balanced diet. Foods high in nutrients can help to strengthen your immune system and improve blood flow. Ensuring you’re eating the right variety from each food group is beneficial for all, but especially those suffering with IC. Try avoiding foods high in sugar and salt. Avoiding alcohol could be highly beneficial too5.

Try wearing loose clothing and have planned bathroom breaks – this way you’ll maintain an empty bladder as much as possible. If your symptoms are worsening and affecting your everyday lifestyle, do reach out to your GP.

If you have interstitial cystitis and are concerned about urinary incontinence, then check out our guide featuring various articles covering the basics, but also be sure to discuss it with your GP.