Guidance for Interstitial Cystitis/Bladder Pain Syndrome

September 19, 2016

Photo: Rochelle Hartman (CC)

Interstitial Cystitis/Bladder Pain Syndrome (IC/BPS) is a poorly understood chronic pain condition estimated to affect between 2.7% to 6.5% of women in the United States. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. You might, however, be familiar with the symptoms.

According to our newly revised health article on the condition, the most common symptoms of IC/BPS are recurring pelvic pain, pressure, or discomfort in the bladder, urethra, and pelvic area. People with IC/BPS generally experience urinary frequency (needing to go often) and urinary urgency (feeling a strong need to go). For some people, symptoms come and go, while for others they are constant. Symptoms vary from mild to severe. There are no tests for IC/BPS (outdated tests like the potassium sensitivity test are no longer recommended), so people are diagnosed based on their symptoms.

As with other medical conditions that primarily affect women, IC/BPS symptoms have a history of being disregarded. Many people who have symptoms go undiagnosed. In the past, women were told that it was all in their head (which sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) or that they had an oversensitive bladder.

If you have these symptoms, it’s important to visit a gynecologist, urologist, or urogynecologist (you may first need to see your primary care provider to get a referral). She or he should obtain a complete medical history, perform a thorough abdominal and pelvic exam, and do testing to exclude other conditions that can have similar symptoms, including bladder infections, kidney infections, kidney stones, pelvic floor problems, vaginal infections, endometriosis, and bladder cancer.

While there is no cure yet for IC/BPS, there are treatments, including medications, physical therapy, diet modifications, bladder instillations and surgery, that can ease the symptoms . If you suffer from IC/BPS, you may need to experiment with different treatments to find one that works. More research is needed to understand more about which patients respond best to particular treatments, and to better understand the condition.

To find out about specific treatments for IC/BPS, see our newly revised health article, Interstitial Cystitis/ Bladder Pain Syndrome.

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