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.
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.
Dr. Joe Littlejohn, Jr., who holds an MD in Urology and is an Assistant Professor of Surgery in the Division of Urology, Penn State Health University corroborates the overwhelming incidence of backache in IC patients. “A 2013 study conducted on 214 women reports a 34% occurrence of lower back pain in association with IC”, he says.
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.
Dr. Joe Littlejohn, Jr. also points out that, “although IC does not lead to bladder cancer, there is a study which suggests that bladder cancer is more common in patients who have been diagnosed with IC than the general population.”
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.
Dr Littlejohn, Jr., goes on to say that, “IC is a chronic disease, but not a fatal one which can be effectively managed with the right treatment. The following tips can help in this regard:
- Keep a log of personal triggers.
- Note which treatment regimen works best for you.
- If on chronic Elmiron, see your Ophthalmologist for medication induced retinal changes.
- If frequency and urgency are your main symptoms, consider Sacral Neuromodulation, if medications have failed.”
Fortunately, there are many home remedies and lifestyle changes that can help treat the problem and improve the symptoms.
Natural Ways to Deal with Interstitial Cystitis
Here are some 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 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Another study published in European Urology in 2007 analyzed IC symptoms in 981 women failed to find any association between smoking and IC.
Turmeric is beneficial for many ailments, including IC. The compound curcumin in turmeric is anti-inflammatory in nature, thus it helps reduce inflammation in the bladder.
Turmeric is known to regulate inflammation in the body through its action on the liver. This, in turn, helps reduce other symptoms related to IC. Curcumin derivatives have also shown to have analgesic property in some studies.
Plus, turmeric has antimicrobial properties and reduces the risk of UTIs.
- Include turmeric in your cooking by adding it to your milk, curry or soup.
- You can take curcumin supplements to help reduce inflammation in the body. For the correct dosage, consult your doctor.
8. Avoid Food Triggers
When suffering from IC, it is important to change your diet and avoid triggers that can worsen your symptoms.
Certain foods can lead to more pain and also irritate the bladder, making your condition even worse.
Questionnaire-based studies among IC patients have reported that some of the common food triggers that may aggravate IC symptoms are spicy foods, coffee, chocolate, fruits (especially citrus), tomatoes, vinegar, and pickled foods, anything with caffeine, carbonated drinks, and alcohol. Artificial sweeteners may aggravate symptoms in some people.
Eliminating or reducing these foods in your diet can help improve your symptoms.
9. Stress Management
While stress is not a cause of IC, it can make your symptoms flare up and trigger inflammation in the body. Hence, to help manage IC symptoms and prevent them from getting worse, it is important to reduce your stress levels.
In 1997, a study using emotional stress models of animals demonstrated that psychological stress can activate bladder mast cells which play a role in the process of interstitial cystitis.
Another comparative study of IC patients and healthy controls revealed that greater the levels of stress, greater the pain, and urgency in IC patients but not in the healthy controls. This association between stress and IC symptoms was found to increase with the severity of the disease.
To reduce stress, do something relaxing every day. Meditation, light exercise, listening to soft music or even a swimming session can help fight stress. In fact, you can do anything that you find relaxing.
A form of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture can help reduce IC symptoms by strengthening the urinary system and improving the functioning of the bladder.
Acupuncture has been reported to be moderately successful. The most attractive thing about acupuncture is that there is no known side effect.
During an acupuncture session, a practitioner places numerous thin needles in your skin at specific points on your body. This helps relieve pain and other symptoms by rebalancing the flow of energy in your body.
Acupuncture also boosts the activity of your body’s natural painkillers.
Get your acupuncture treatment done only by a qualified acupuncturist.
- Maintaining a regular exercise routine can help you manage your symptoms.
- Opt for bladder training that involves timed urination – going to the toilet according to the clock rather than waiting for the need to go. It would be good to maintain a bladder diary to log the initial frequency of urinary urgency and actual urination.
- Urinate at regular intervals to reduce the risk of bladder infections as well as kidney problems. Always urinate before and after sex so as to decrease the risk of bladder infections and avoid holding urine in the bladder for too long.
- Wear loose clothing and avoid belts or clothes that put pressure on your abdomen.
- Maintain good hygiene. It is important for your bladder as well as your overall health.
- Do not use douches, soaps or deodorants in your vaginal area.
- Keep your bathroom clean and avoid using dirty bathrooms or public toilets.
- Avoid staying in a wet swimsuit for a long time.
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