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Interestitial cystitis

Overview of interstitial cystitis

Interstitial cystitis (sometimes called painful bladder syndrome) is a condition characterized by chronic bladder or pelvic pain and the frequent urge to urinate. This is, in turn, caused by chronic inflammation of the muscle layers of the bladder. Interstitial cystitis is much more common in women than in men.

If you are experiencing bladder pain or other symptoms, reach out to the women’s health experts at Dignity Health. We deliver personalized care including diagnosis and treatment of interstitial cystitis. Find a Doctor to schedule an appointment today.


Interstitial cystitis symptoms can include:

  • Recurring, sudden, or urgent need to urinate
  • Frequent urination
  • Incontinence (unintentional leakage of urine)
  • Pain, pressure, or discomfort in the lower abdomen or pelvic region
  • Pain while the bladder is filling up and relief when it is emptied
  • Pain during sexual intercourse

The discomfort of interstitial cystitis can be nothing more than a burning sensation that is mild, or it can be severe pain. This discomfort can be steady, or it can fluctuate. For many women, symptoms are worse during menstruation. People can go into periodic remission, in which there are no symptoms of the condition at all.


No one knows what causes interstitial cystitis. Some researchers think interstitial cystitis may not be a single disorder, but rather an element of several different chronic inflammatory conditions, such as fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome. Many of these conditions respond to the same treatment strategies. Other potential causes include:

  • A defect in the tissue of the bladder that allows substances from the urine to enter it.
  • The presence of a type of inflammatory cell called a mast cell that releases chemicals, including histamine, into the bladder.
  • The presence of something in the urine that causes damage to the bladder.
  • Changes in the nerves of the bladder that heighten sensations and result in pain.

Risk factors

While the exact cause of interstitial cystitis is still not known, several risk factors can play a role in its development. These include:

  • Gender (women are more likely than men to get it)
  • Skin and hair color (those with lighter hair and fairer skin are at higher risk)
  • Age (the older you are, the higher your risk)
  • Past trauma to the muscles lining the bladder (such as from surgery)
  • Multiple/repeated bladder infections
  • Extreme stretching of the bladder (such as from going long periods of time without urination)
  • The presence of autoimmune disorders
  • Weak or dysfunctional muscles in the pelvic floor
  • Inflammation or hypersensitivity of the pelvic nerves
  • Trauma to the spinal cord

Many researchers are also beginning to believe that family history can play a role in the development of interstitial cystitis.


Since the cause of interstitial cystitis is unknown, there is nothing specific you can do to prevent it. However, you can take action to maintain the health of your pelvic floor muscles and your bladder. Doing exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor and ensuring you drink enough fluids and urinate when necessary (rather than holding it in) will help. It is also important to avoid urinary tract infections by maintaining good personal hygiene.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.