Interstitial Cystitis is diagnosed when a person has chronic bladder discomfort that’s relieved with urination. Patients urinate extremely frequently, maybe 60 times a day & all through the night, mainly because that’s what gives them relief. The term is misleading because there’s no indication of infection or inflammation & there’s nothing wrong with bladder cells. So the term “Bladder Pain Syndrome” is more accurate, but patients have worked so hard to get a skeptical medical establishment to appreciate their distress, that the older term Interstitial Cystitis is still used.
I say “skeptical” because IC/BPS is one of those conditions where there’s no evidence of disease. Urine tests are normal; blood tests, CT scans, cystoscopy (looking inside the bladder), and biopsies are all normal. In such cases, the medical system tends to wonder if everything isn’t psychological. But without doubt, patients with this condition suffer.
Maybe patients’ bladders are simply hypersensitive to normal stimuli. They may feel pain from being touched, called “allodynia,” which also occurs in patients with other chronic pains. Diagnosis is made purely by symptoms; tests are only done to rule out other conditions. Many women with IC/BPS often have vulvodynia as well, defined as pain around the opening to the vagina.
Treatment may be difficult, since nobody knows the cause. Various types of medications and other therapies can be tried. Above all, treatment should not cause harm (like giving narcotic pain medications that are addicting). Psychological support is crucial.