What Is Interstitial Cystitis?


Interstitial cystitis, also known as painful bladder syndrome (PBS), is a chronic pain condition. It causes bladder pressure and pain. An individual with interstitial cystitis will feel the urge to urinate frequently but may only produce a small amount of urine. Interstitial Cystitis symptoms can be the same as those as a urinary tract infection, but an infection is usually not present. If a person is experiencing chronic bladder pain and frequent urinary urges, contacting a health care provider is important.


A physician will request a urine sample to rule out infection. A pelvic exam is usually necessary to examine the external genitals, vagina and cervix. A health care provider will take a detailed medical history and ask the individual to keep a bladder diary recording the volume of fluids consumed and the volume of fluid excreted through urine.


Symptoms vary from person to person and may even subside for months or years.

  • Painful intercourse
  • Pain in the pelvis between the vagina and anus
  • Pain between the scrotum and anus
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Persistent need to urinate
  • Pain as the bladder fills
  • Relief after urinating
  • Abnormal substances in the urine

Risk factors

  • Age
  • Race
  • Autoimmune conditions

Common triggers

An individual may have flare ups caused by common triggers, including the following:

  • Sitting too long
  • Stress
  • Exercise
  • Allergies

Some individuals with interstitial cystitis find that certain foods trigger and irritate the bladder. The common four bladder irritants are known as the “4 Cs” — coffee, caffeine, carbonated beverages and chocolate. Tomatoes and artificial sweeteners can also irritate the bladder. Keeping a list of foods believed to be triggers and eliminating them one by one and then slowly adding them back to the diet helps identify food triggers.

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