Irritable or painful bladder syndrome is usually referred to as interstitial cystitis. This inflammation of the bladder is a chronic condition that affects as many as 1 million people in the United States, says FamilyDoctor.org, an online information service of the American Academy of Family Physicians. The population affected by irritable bladder syndrome is overwhelmingly female, though males and children are not immune to the disorder. Medical testing, medications and lifestyle adjustments can help ease and manage the painful symptoms of interstitial cystitis.
Urinary Symptoms of Irritable Bladder Syndrome (Interstitial Cystitis )
The main symptoms of an irritable bladder are urinary in nature. A person who is affected by this syndrome may have a sudden urge to urinate but find that she does not put out very much urine each time she tries. A patient with interstitial cystitis may have pain when urinating that can be described as sharp or burning. The pain felt when urinating usually subsides to some degree as the bladder empties, though some people do not find this kind of relief. The frequent urges to use the bathroom can last throughout the day and night.
Pain Accompanies Irritable Bladder Syndrome
In addition to pain in the bladder and during urination, people who have interstitial cystitis often experience pain in the pelvic area. Women and men may feel the pain in the pelvis and the perineum area even when they have no urge to urinate. Men may experience discomfort in the scrotum and penis. A burning or aching pain during sexual activity is a common symptom of an irritable bladder in both genders. Menstruation can make the pain of interstitial cystitis worse, with symptoms easing after the period is over. The intensity of the pain ranges from mildly uncomfortable to intense enough that it can make everyday activities difficult or even impossible. Pelvic exercises may be used to relieve pelvic pain caused by an irritable bladder.
Easing the Symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis
If you have interstitial cystitis, you may benefit from altering your diet. Some of the same foods that can irritate the lining of the stomach can also irritate the bladder--including acidic, spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol. Your doctor may suggest that you refrain from eating these items, as well as chocolate and foods that contain artificial sweeteners, and see if your symptoms subside. Keeping a food diary that details what you have eaten and the intensity of your symptoms can help you determine if your diet may contribute to your painful symptoms. Over-the-counter medications can also help counter mild to moderate pain caused by an irritable bladder. Avoiding cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products may also alleviate discomfort.
Medical Management of Irritable Bladder Syndrome
Symptoms of interstitial cystitis may decrease through the use of several different medical procedures. Stretching out the irritated bladder--a procedure called bladder distention--is done under an anesthetic. Some people find temporary relief after distention because the bladder is able to hold more liquid. Medications such as Elavil and Emilron can manage symptoms to the extent that they don't take over your life. Electric nerve stimulation treatments performed on the muscles around the bladder may also relieve irritable bladder symptoms in some people. Re-training the bladder may be a useful management tool. Bladder training involves going to the bathroom on a set schedule in an effort to allow your bladder to hold more liquid at a time.
Finding Support for the Patient
Interstitial cystitis can be a life-altering situation if your symptoms are severe and constant. Due to the delicate nature of the problem, you may not feel comfortable discussing your pain with your family or friends. Your doctor can refer you to a support group, either specifically for irritable bladder problems or for people with other chronic illnesses. The Interstitial Cystitis Association (800-435-7422, toll-free in the United States) can direct you to a local support group. Being able to discuss your medical issues with others can reduce stress and may improve symptoms. Stress is not a cause of painful bladder syndrome, but leading a stressful life can increase your symptoms.