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

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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 Bladder Inflammation (Interstitial Cystitis)?

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.

Inflammation of the Bladder: Why Does It Happen?

The onset of painful bladder syndrome or interstitial cystitis 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.

Causes of Inflammation of the Bladder

The urinary system of the body includes the kidneys, ureters, urethra, and bladder, all of which play a role in removing waste from the body. The bladder is a hollow organ situated in the lower abdomen that stores urine; it expands when it is being filled, and contracts when urine is being passed. The walls of this sac-like organ become inflamed when an infection kicks in. Three common types of bladder infections that result in bladder inflammation are bacterial cystitis, noninfectious cystitis, and interstitial cystitis.

Causes of Bacterial Cystitis

Bacterial cystitis is what is commonly known as a urinary tract infection (UTI) and is caused by the Escherichia coli bacteria. Ask anyone who has had one and you will quickly discover that these infections are not fun at all. Some of the symptoms include:

  • A strong need to urinate that does not go away;
  • A stinging sensation when you urinate;
  • Smaller amounts of urine than normal, most often because of the pain and your body refusing to release more;
  • Pelvic pain;
  • Blood in the urine;
  • Pressure in the lower abdomen; and
  • A low-grade fever (around 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

A UTI is more common in women than men because their urethras are shorter and closer to the anus, which increases the risk of bacterial transmission. A UTI usually appears in women after sexual intercourse or when a diaphragm is used. Menopause has also been known to increase the incidence of bladder inflammation. Wearing cotton underwear, emptying the bladder as soon as possible after sex, and practicing good hygiene can help limit the chances of getting a UTI.

Causes of Noninfectious Cystitis

Noninfectious cystitis is also more common in women than men. A number of factors that can cause it are bubble baths, feminine hygiene sprays, feminine hygiene products (tampons and pads), and spermicidal jellies. This doesn’t mean that everyone will get this form of cystitis; it just means that these certain factors make the condition more likely. Family history is also a factor to take into consideration. The symptoms of noninfectious cystitis are much the same as bacterial cystitis:

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Bladder Inflammation (Interstitial Cystitis)

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:

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.

Prevention Tips for Bladder Inflammation

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.

Also Read :

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.
“Conditions Treated: Interstitial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome, UCLA,” UCLA web site;, last accessed March 11, 2016.
“Cystitis – Acute,” Medline Plus web site;, last accessed March 11, 2016.