Understanding Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a chronic bladder condition that results in recurring pressure, discomfort or pain in the bladder and surrounding pelvic region, urinary frequency and urgency. IC may also be referred to as painful bladder syndrome (PBS), bladder pain syndrome (BPS) and chronic pelvic pain. IC is more common in women than in men; approximately eight in 10 of those diagnosed are women. It is estimated that three to eight million women in the United States may have IC. That is about three to six percent of all women in the U.S. Many people are diagnosed in middle age, but IC can be diagnosed in teenagers and senior citizens as well.

The symptoms of IC vary from person to person and even in the same individual, they can change over time. Symptoms can be mild or severe, occasional or constant. Women who have IC may experience the following symptoms:

  • Discomfort, pressure, tenderness or pain in the bladder and pelvic area
  • Urgency – the urgent need to urinate
  • Frequency – the frequent need to urinate
  • Pain during vaginal intercourse


While there is not yet a cure for IC, there are treatments available that can help relieve symptoms. There is no single “correct” treatment for any given person; treatment is tailored to the individual. Treatments can include self-help strategies, medications, bladder instillations, physical therapy, complementary and alternative therapies, bladder distention and nerve stimulation.

Some individuals also find relief by making changes to their diets. Alcohol, tomatoes, spices, chocolate, caffeinated and citrus beverages, artificial sweeteners, high-acid foods and foods with potassium are often the culprits for worsening symptoms. Eliminating various items from your diet and then reintroducing them one at a time may determine which, if any, affect a person’s symptoms.

In addition to physical symptoms, IC can also lead to emotional concerns. We recommend you learn as much as you can about IC and play an active role in your treatment and self-care. Studies have shown that people who learn about the disorder and become involved in their own care do better than those who do not. Emotional support of family, friends and your health care team is very important in coping as well.

At Virginia Women’s Center, our urologist, Dr. Lonny Green, our urogynecologist, Dr. Tovia Smith, and their staff work to find the best individualized treatment plan for women who have IC.

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