Bladder Inflammation (Interstitial Cystitis): Causes, Diagnosis, and Natural Treatments

By , Category : General Health

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For those of you living with this reality, you know far too well how debilitating and frustrating it can be.

One of the conditions that causes these painful feelings is called interstitial cystitis. It’s rather difficult to pinpoint this condition due to the lack of clear guidelines for diagnoses. But it’s estimated that there are close to five million Americans who suffer from it. Even more alarming is that it impacts women nearly twice as frequently as it does men.

What Is It?

Also called “painful bladder syndrome,” interstitial cystitis (let’s call it PBS/IC) is an inflammatory bowel condition that leads to pain, ulceration, and bleeding in the bladder’s lining. It’s characterized by a frequent tendency to urinate that tends to be accompanied by pain or pressure. Following urination, the pain and pressure usually subsides.

Unfortunately, doctors aren’t sure what causes it. They have, however, determined that it is an independent condition—not something caused by stress, psychological state, or another ailment. They have also determined that there is likely a series of conditions that fall into the PBS/IC category. PBS/IC is more common in people who have conditions like IBS, allergies, or fibromyalgia.

Why Does It Happen?

The onset of PBS/IC typically takes place in your 40s, although not exclusively. Symptoms usually start with a more frequent need to urinate, starting slowly and worsening over time. However, the symptoms and severity vary from person to person, and even among individual cases.

Sometimes symptoms are light and few in numbers, while other times they can be intense and copious. Because there is so much variance in symptoms, doctors believe the condition consists of a number of potential disorders.

Although it might feel like a urinary tract infection (UTI), it’s different because it isn’t caused by an external infection. Instead, PBS/IC is likely caused by a compromise in the lining of the bladder. It’s believed that the protective layer that coats the bladder (glycocalyx), shielding it from the toxic effects of urine, becomes leaky and is therefore exposed to these toxins. It allows the chemicals in your urine to pass through, thus resulting in the pain and pressure so many with PBS/IC experience.

Another hypothesis is that some people have fewer protective bacteria along their bladder walls, thus leading to inadequate protection from the toxins and chemicals in urine. If this is the case, it’s possible that high levels of potassium (normally not harmful) in the urine penetrate the walls and lead to inflammation and damage in the surrounding muscle layers.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Because the symptoms are often similar to other conditions that impact the bladder, PBS/IC is rather difficult to diagnose. Hence, it’s usually done by the process of elimination. Furthermore, the methods to diagnose a patient aren’t clearly defined, making it difficult for doctors to distinguish from other potential disorders.

The other conditions that are typically excluded before a diagnosis can be given are:

  1.  UTIs
  2. Vaginal infections
  3. Bladder cancer and its associated symptoms
  4. Inflammation
  5. Tuberculosis cystitis
  6. Kidney stones
  7. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  8. Endometrium inflammation

A number of possibilities must be crossed off the list before a doctor can diagnose you with PBS/IC.

The symptoms for the condition include:

  • Decreased bladder capacity
  • Urgent need to urinate frequently during the day and night
  • Pressure, tenderness, and pain around the bladder, pelvis, and perineum (the area between the anus and vagina, or anus and scrotum)
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Discomfort in the penis or scrotum

Stress may also play a role in intensifying the symptoms, although it is not a cause. Also, the symptoms tend to start slow and become more intense over time. You might notice additional symptoms and variances in the severity and appearance of each.

In order to have a diagnosis, you’ll need to undergo a physical examination and provide blood tests and swabs.


Most of the time, treatment is done with pharmaceuticals. But there are some natural alternatives you can consider to help control the condition.

Certain foods and drinks, for example, can lead to increased urination, inflammation, and bladder irritation. If possible, pay attention to potential triggers and avoid highly acidic foods, or ones containing tyramine

Here are some things to stay away from:

  • Caffeinated or carbonated beverages like coffee or (diet) soda
  • Wine
  • Beer
  • Cheese
  • Nuts
  • Yogurt
  • Bananas
  • Soy sauce
  • Raisins
  • Sour cream
  • Deli meats
  • Chocolate
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Tomatoes
  • Pineapple
  • Sugar
  • Vinegar
  • Yeast

Limiting acidity by trying to keep an alkaline diet is a form of defense. Including probiotics in your diet to improve stomach flora and aid in digestion may help as well. Soy supplements, for example, can help by increasing estrogen to limit inflammation. Other natural anti-inflammatories like omega-3s are also useful.

Although these may be helpful, at this point it is still recommended you talk to your doctor for the best remedies for your specific case.

See More :

Stoppler, M., “Interstitial Cystitis (IC)/Painful Bladder Syndrome (PBS),” Medicine Net, April 3, 2015;, last accessed April 8, 2015.
Pick, M., “Getting Your Bladder Back On Track: Living with Interstitial Cystitis,” Women to Women web site, 2015;, last accessed April 8, 2015.

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Dr. Victor Marchione, MD

About the Author, Browse Victor's Articles

Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The... Read Full Bio »