Symptoms & Causes of Interstitial Cystitis

What are the symptoms of IC?

People with interstitial cystitis (IC) have repeat discomfort, pressure, tenderness or pain in the bladder, lower abdomen, and pelvic area. Symptoms vary from person to person, may be mild or severe, and can even change in each person as time goes on.

Symptoms may include a combination of these symptoms:

Urgency

Urgency is the feeling that you need to urinate right now. A strong urge is normal if you haven't urinated for a few hours or if you have been drinking a lot of liquids. With IC, you may feel pain or burning along with an urgent need to urinate before your bladder has had time to fill.

Frequency

Frequency is urinating more often than you think you should need to, given the amount of liquid you are drinking. Most people urinate between four and seven times a day. Drinking large amounts of liquid can cause more frequent urinating. Taking blood pressure medicines called diuretics, or water pills, can also cause more frequent urinating. Some people with IC feel a strong, painful urge to urinate many times a day.

Pain

As your bladder starts to fill, you may feel pain—rather than just discomfort—that gets worse until you urinate. The pain usually improves for a while once you empty your bladder. People with IC rarely have constant bladder pain. The pain may go away for weeks or months and then return. People with IC sometimes refer to an attack of bladder pain as a symptom flare.

Some people may have pain without urgency or frequency. This pain may come from a spasm in the pelvic floor muscles, the group of muscles that is attached to your pelvic bones and supports your bladder, bowel, and uterus or prostate. Pain from pelvic floor muscle spasm may get worse during sex.

What causes IC?

Researchers are working to understand the causes of IC and to find treatments that work. Even though the exact cause of IC is unknown, you may find that certain events or factors start, or trigger, your symptom flares. Symptom flares can make your IC feel worse. Some people have reported that their symptom flares happen when they6

  • are stressed, or have certain emotions, such as anger or sadness
  • have sex
  • have a menstrual cycle
  • have a urinary tract infection
  • urinate or hold urine for too long
  • skip meals or are dehydrated
  • feel changes in the seasons or the weather
  • have allergies
  • go through sudden or bumpy movements
  • take certain medicines or forget to take their medicines
  • wear tight pants and undergarments
  • use laundry detergents with certain chemicals or are in pool water with certain chemicals
  • use certain brands of toilet paper
  • do certain physical activities, like pushing or lifting heavy objects
  • stand for long periods of time
  • have a Pap smear
  • take antidepressants, sinus medicines, or pain relievers

Talk with your health care professional about flare management. If you know which factors make your symptoms flare, you may wish to avoid them. However, if factors that affect your health—like having sex, having a Pap smear, or taking certain medicines—make your symptom flares occur, talk with your health care professional right away.

You may also want to learn more about which foods and drinks may trigger your symptom flares.

July 2017
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.