Interstitial Cystitis (IC): Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

We can probably all relate to the feeling of having the strong urge to urinate! In this lesson, we will learn what interstitial cystitis is. We will look at the cause of this condition as well as the symptoms and treatment options.

I Need to Go!

Lisa is a 35-year-old, red-haired, fair skin woman. A couple months ago she saw her doctor because she was sure she had a urinary tract infection (UTI). She had the classic symptoms of urgency, pain, and frequency. Her urine test came back negative, though. She felt a little better for a while, but then her symptoms continued. She found herself rushing to the bathroom during the day and night. She decided to see her doctor again.

What Is Interstitial Cystitis?

Interstitial cystitis, also called painful bladder syndrome, is a chronic condition that causes feelings of pressure and pain in the pelvic and bladder regions. There are no specific diagnostic tests to identify interstitial cystitis. Rather, it is a diagnosis of exclusion. This means if no other cause for the symptoms can be identified, it is likely interstitial cystitis.


Lisa's doctor asks her more about the symptoms that she is having. She tells him that she has pain in her lower abdominal area and groin when she feels the urge to urinate. She has to go to the bathroom frequently but only goes small amounts.

Interstitial cystitis is characterized by periods of symptom exacerbation and times when symptoms may go away. The symptoms are characteristic of a UTI without the presence of any infection and include a strong urge to urinate even though urine output is minimal and pain that seems to be associated with the bladder filling up with urine.


The doctor orders different tests for Lisa. Over the course of several weeks, she continues to see her doctor for tests and follow up. All of the tests came back negative. Lisa was feeling frustrated and tired of feeling this way. At her most recent appointment, the doctor tells her there aren't any other tests that they can perform. He tells her that she has interstitial cystitis.

Lisa asks her doctor how she got interstitial cystitis, and he explained to her that despite intensive research, there is no clear cause for this condition. One theory is that it is caused by a defect in the lining of the bladder. The lining may allow toxic substances to leak into the bladder, which results in the pain and symptoms associated with the condition. More research is still needed. There are other contributing factors that are believed to play a role, but they also haven't been proven yet. These include an allergy, autoimmune reaction, hereditary factors, or infection.


Lisa wishes she could know exactly what is causing her symptoms, but she accepts the doctor's answer. She proceeds to ask how they can treat her symptoms so she doesn't have to keep living like this. His answer to this question was also disappointing. He explained to her that there isn't any effective treatment and periods of exacerbations will likely continue.

He further explains there are some things they can do to try to minimize the symptoms. He recommends using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help manage the pain. Examples include ibuprofen or naproxen. Antihistamines may also provide some relief. Since interstitial cystitis affects quality of life and people dealing with this often deal with depression, tricyclic antidepressants may also be helpful in managing the pain and the depression associated with interstitial cystitis.

Physical therapy can be beneficial by working with the muscles on the pelvic floor. Guided imagery is a non-pharmacological technique that uses direct suggestions and visualizations to focus your mind on healing your body, with the hope that your body will do just that. Acupuncture may also provide some relief.

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