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Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a chronic bladder condition. Its symptoms are pain, pressure, or discomfort that seems to be coming from the bladder and is associated with urinary frequency and/or an urge to urinate. The symptoms range from mild to severe, and intermittent to constant. The more severe cases of IC can have a devastating effect on both sufferers and their loved ones. Many cases are of mild or moderate severity.

In the past, IC was believed to be a rare disease that was very difficult to treat. Now we know that IC affects many women and men. The following information should help you discuss this condition with your urologist and understand what treatments are available.

What happens under normal conditions?

After urine is made in the kidneys, it flows down the ureters into the bladder. The bladder is a hollow, balloon-like organ. Most of the wall of the bladder is made of muscle. As the bladder fills, the muscle relaxes so that the bladder expands and holds urine. During urination, the bladder muscle contracts to squeeze out the urine. The urethra is the tube through which urine passes from the bladder to the outside. The urethra has a muscle, the sphincter, which is completely different from the bladder muscle. The sphincter normally stays closed and makes a seal to keep urine from leaking. During urination, the sphincter opens and lets urine pass.

The bladder and urethra have a specialized lining called the epithelium. The epithelium forms a barrier between the urine and the bladder muscle. The epithelium also helps to keep bacteria from sticking to the bladder, so it helps to prevent bladder infections.

What is interstitial cystitis (IC)?

IC is a chronic bladder condition. Its symptoms may be mild or severe, occasional or constant. It is not an infection, but its symptoms can feel like those of a bladder infection. In women, it is often associated with pain upon intercourse. Interstitial cystitis is also referred to as bladder pain syndrome (BPS) and can be associated with irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other pain syndromes.

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Information provided by the American Urological Association.