February 19, 2023 3 min read

Interstitial cystitis also known as painful bladder syndrome or bladder pain syndrome is a long-lasting condition that places pressure on the bladder causing bladder and pelvic pain. This pain can vary from small discomfort to severe pain.

When someone experiences interstitial cystitis, the signal to your brain that your bladder is full and needs emptying, does not work properly. Instead, you feel the need to urinate more often, and excerpt much smaller amounts of urine compared to the average person.

Painful bladder syndrome more commonly affects women and their quality of life, typically over the age of 30. Currently, there is no cure for this condition however therapies and medication can offer relief to some patients.


Symptoms of painful bladder syndrome or interstitial cystitis

IC is a difficult condition to diagnose as there is not a single test that confirms someone may have the condition. Symptoms of the condition can vary from person to person and may change over time. Some people experience flare ups of symptoms in response to common triggers such as menstruation, sitting for longer periods of time, stress, exercise and sexual activity. Some of the symptoms related to painful bladder syndrome may include:

  • Strong pelvic pain
  • Sudden strong urges to urinate
  • Needing to urinate more often the normal
  • Pain in your lower stomach when your bladder is filling up (pain is relieved when you urinate)
  • Waking up during the night to urinate
  • Finding it difficult to urinate
  • Finding blood in your urine (haematuria) – can appear bright pink, red, or dark brown


Some of these symptoms can be a result of other underlying conditions that you may have, one including cancer of the bladder. This makes it important to take a trip to visit your doctor if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms.


Causes of painful bladder syndrome or interstitial cystitis

The exact cause of IC is unknown however, factors contributing to the development of this issue may include:

  1. A defect in the protective lining of their bladder (epithelium). A leak in this area can allow toxic substances in urine to irritate the bladder wall.
  2. An issue with your pelvic floor muscles which are used to control urination
  3. Your own immune system causing an inflammatory reaction

Some people who experience IC may have a chronic UTI in their bladder which has not yet be detected through urine testing. Additionally, painful bladder syndrome can be linked to other conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).


How is interstitial cystitis diagnosed?

Unfortunately, there is not a single test that can determine if someone has IC. Therefore, to form an accurate diagnosis, several tests have to be conducted to exclude other conditions. Tests that your doctor may conduct could be:

  • Cystoscopy – a small camera is used to look inside your bladder
  • Urine test – you’ll be asked to provide a sample of urine
  • Ultrasound, MRI scan or CT scan of the urinary tract and potentially of your kidneys
  • Urodynamics – a number of tests that look at the function of your bladder and urethra
  • Vaginal swabs


If you are visiting your doctor as you believe you may have IC, be sure to ask your doctor what tests they may conduct, what they’re for and their procedure to make sure that you’re comfortable to go ahead.

When discussing your condition with your doctor, they may suggest medications, therapies and procedures to help relieve pain. Treatments can vary based on the severity of your condition and what you are comfortable with. Be sure to visit your doctor if you believe you may have interstitial cystitis or are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with the condition.


Medical Disclaimer: Articles are intended for informational purposes only and should not be used as the basis of patient treatment. Ask a medical professional if you have any health-related questions or concerns.


Additional resources

NHS. (2022). Bladder pain syndrome (interstitial cystitis).

The Mayo Clinic. (2021). Interstitial cystitis.