What is it?
Interstitial cystitis (IC) shares many of the same symptoms as a urinary tract infection (UTI):
People with interstitial cystitis (IC) have an inflamed, or irritated, bladder wall. This inflammation can lead to scarring and stiffening of the bladder, decreasing bladder capacity and leading many women to believe that they have a UTI. Because the symptoms of IC so closely resemble those of UTIs, and because there is no specific test to identify IC, it is difficult to diagnose quickly. A doctor must essentially work through a process of elimination, first ruling out other conditions.
- Decreased bladder capacity
- Urgent need to urinate frequently day and night
- Feelings of pressure, pain, and tenderness around the bladder, pelvis, and perineum (the area between the anus and vagina)
- Painful sexual intercourse
A doctor will use several methods to explore the possibility of a patient having interstitial cystitis. She will probably first do a urinalysis and urine culture in order to detect and identify any of the most common organisms in the urine. If the urine is consistently sterile but the symptoms persist, IC will be considered.
Another diagnostic is a Cystoscopy (a "scope") under general anesthesia. The cystoscope is a hollow tube, about the diameter of a straw, which holds several lenses and a light. It is used to view the inside of the bladder. The bladder is distended to its capacity with gas or liquid so that the wall of the bladder can be examined for any signs of inflammation or ulcers. This distension also provides the doctor with a chance to measure the limits of a woman's bladder capacity. A below normal capacity can be a sign of IC. Finally, the doctor might perform a biopsy. A biopsy helps rule out bladder cancer and confirm bladder wall inflammation.
If a woman is diagnosed with IC, there is a large range of treatments available. It is important to note that these treatments are directed towards relieving the symptoms rather than the cause. The cause of IC is unknown. Treatments range from changes in diet; eating less acidic foods and less alcohol (drinking cranberry juice is not one of them!), to medical treatments such as bladder instillation, where the bladder is flushed; bladder distension, the stretching of the bladder; or surgical augmentation of the bladder.
There are also a number of resources available, including online information sites, which provide both medical information, and support. If the symptoms described above are familiar to a woman, she should see a doctor and suggest that she explore the possibility of IC. The woman should also keep track of when the symptoms flare up, as this will help both diagnosis and treatment.
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