Also known as painful bladder syndrome, interstitial cystitis (IC) is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the muscle layers of the bladder. It is characterized by pain, pressure, and the urge to urinate frequently. Interstitial cystitis is hard to detect, and the diagnosis is made in the absence of other underlying causes and symptoms of urinary pain.
If you have urinary pain along with other lower urinary tract symptoms for more than 6 weeks without any other cause of infection or symptoms, you may be suffering from interstitial cystitis. This condition affects more than 12 million people in the United States, according to the Interstitial Cystitis Association (1).
The signs and symptoms of interstitial cystitis vary from person to person. Although IC is not an infection, it may feel like a bladder infection. Due to the inflammation, one experiences bladder pressure, bladder pain and sometimes pelvic pain. Depending on the severity of the condition, the pain can range from mild to severe. The bladder pressure makes you urinate more often and with smaller volumes of urine than most people.
Periodical flaring of symptoms can be noticed in response to common triggers, such as menstruation, sitting for a long time, stress, exercise, and sexual activity. Bladder pain can aggravate as the bladder becomes full. Some patients experience pain in the lower abdomen, lower back, other organs of the urinary tract, pelvic area, vulva or vagina in women, and scrotum, testis, and penis in men. The pain may be constant or it may be recurrent (2).
There are many factors that can aggravate the condition of IC. The symptoms may worsen if you have interstitial cystitis and get a urinary tract infection (UTI). Similarly physical and mental stress can also worsen the IC symptoms.
The exact cause of interstitial cystitis isn’t known, but certain factors increase the risk of having this problem.
The first risk factor is your gender. It is more common in women than men. People who have fair skin, red hair, and those over 30 years of age are also more prone to the condition.
Other risk factors include trauma to the bladder’s lining, weakened or dysfunctional pelvic floor muscles, recurring bacterial infections, autoimmune disorders, and chronic pain disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome or fibromyalgia.
Interstitial cystitis can also affect the quality of life of a person, influencing almost all spheres of life of the individual including sleep, social life, exercise, work, married life, etc. There is no single treatment that will remedy all the IC patients but the treatments are based on the symptoms of the individual patients concerned.
Fortunately, there are many home remedies and lifestyle changes that can help treat the problem and improve the symptoms.
Here are the top 10 home remedies for interstitial cystitis (IC).
1. Hot Compress
Applying a hot compress on your bladder is a very simple and effective treatment to reduce swelling on the bladder, which is a common symptom of IC.
Physicians recommend both cold and hot packs on the cold abdomen to get relief from IC (3), these packs provide relief from both the inflammation and pain. When the pain is from the bladder wall, a hot compress also will help reduce muscle spasms.
- Wrap a thin cloth around a hot water bag.
- Apply the compress on the pelvic floor muscles for 5 minutes.
- Take a break of 5 minutes, then repeat again.
- Do this for 20 minutes.
- Repeat 2 or 3 times daily, or whenever you feel pain in the bladder and pelvic areas.
Another option is to apply hot, unrefined organic castor oil topically to the lower abdomen or pelvic area prior to applying the heating pad. This treatment can be done 3-4 times for 20 minutes.
2. Baking Soda
Baking soda is a very effective home remedy for IC. Being alkaline in nature, it helps reduce the body’s acid level. This helps alleviate the burning sensation and other symptoms of IC.
Baking soda also reduces the risk of UTIs.
A 2002 study published in Reviews in Urology reports that urinary alkalinization with baking soda or potassium citrate has been an effective treatment for many IC patients (4).
- Just mix ½ to 1 teaspoon of baking soda into a glass of water and drink it 2 or 3 times a day.
- Also, prepare a baking soda bath by mixing 1 cup of baking soda into a bathtub half-filled with lukewarm water. Soak your body in it for 10 minutes. Do this once daily.
3. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is highly beneficial for your bladder health. It helps remove toxins from your body and keep your bladder function properly. Apple cider vinegar also helps keep the pH level of the body balanced.
Drinking apple cider vinegar prevents the growth of bacteria that cause urinary tract infection. Although apple cider vinegar is acidic, many IC patients have testified that daily intake of apple cider vinegar alleviated the symptoms of IC.
A case study published in 2013 reported that an IC patient whose diet and lifestyle were modified by the physician to help alleviate her IC symptoms. Her modified diet also included a diluted drink of apple cider vinegar before meals, and this diet gradually helped decrease her flares completely (5).
Plus, it helps prevent urinary infections, which can worsen the symptoms of IC.
- Mix 1 to 2 teaspoons of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in a glass of water.
- Add a little raw honey.
- Drink it twice daily until your symptoms have improved.
Note: Apple cider vinegar may cause esophageal burns in some individuals. Avoid taking it in the concentrated form. This remedy may not suit everyone and needs to be checked on an individual basis.
4. Pelvic Floor (Kegel) Exercises
Exercising your pelvic floor muscles can be a useful way to control IC symptoms. It helps improve bladder control and reduce urine urgency.
It is essential to consult a physical therapist to identify which pelvic muscles need strengthening and the right pelvic exercises as the wrong exercises can make symptoms worse.
If you over-simulate an already tense pelvic muscle, it can aggravate bladder symptoms, as more tension is created rather than relaxation of tensed areas and strengthening of weak areas. The exercises recommended by the therapist can be done at home.
A study published in 2001 demonstrated that pelvic floor manual therapy for reducing the pelvic pressure also helped decrease the urge and frequency of symptoms in IC patients (6).
As women use Kegel’s exercise to improve their sense of control, this, in turn, helps with the emotional symptoms, too.
Before you start the exercise, you need to locate your Kegel muscles. They are the muscles that you use to stop the flow of urine when urinating.
- Sit in a quiet place.
- Contract the Kegel muscles for 5 seconds, while breathing normally.
- Relax for 5 seconds, then repeat the muscle contraction.
- Repeat 10 to 20 times per session.
- Do at least 3 sessions a day.
Make sure to empty your bladder before you begin the exercises.
5. Water Intake
Even if you have the urge to urinate more often when suffering from IC, do not make the mistake of drinking less water.
Patients with IC have a normal tendency to restrict the intake of fluids so as to decrease the discomfort and urge to urinate frequently associated with this condition. But it is essential to drink enough water or fluid, as it dilutes the irritants and toxins present in the urine.
Sufficient amount of water or fluid intake by IC patients helps flush the bladder, reduce inflammation, lower the acidity of urine and also check urinary infection. It also helps reduce the incidence of constipation–a factor that aggravates IC symptoms (7).
To minimize the urgency and frequency to urinate, try sipping on plain water throughout the day instead of drinking a glass or two of water at one time.
Along with water, drink fruit and vegetable juices, as well as, soups or broths regularly to increase your fluid intake.
6. Quit Smoking
Smoking is extremely bad for your bladder health.
The harmful chemicals in cigarettes can worsen IC symptoms and further irritate the bladder. It can increase your risk of UTIs, which can further worsen your symptoms and make treatment more difficult.
The role of cigarette smoke in IC development is a bit controversial. A study published in 2005 suggested that smokers had an increased risk of 2.3 times for developing IC symptoms (8).
Another study published in European Urology in 2007 analyzed IC symptoms in 981 women failed to find any association between smoking and IC (9).