What Is IC?

Interstitial cystitis (IC) — or bladder pain syndrome (BPS), as it is often called — is a chronic, yet treatable, bladder condition that results in recurring discomfort or pain in the bladder and surrounding pelvic region in the absence of other known causes. While much about IC remains unknown, the good news is there are treatment options that may help.

Although men can develop IC, it is far more common among women. In the United States, an estimated 3.3 million, or 2.7%, who are 18 years of age or older have pelvic pain and other symptoms, such as urinary urgency or frequency, that are associated with IC/BPS. On average, the onset of IC is age 43; however, nearly 30% of patients are under 30 years old when they first develop symptoms. The prevalence of the disease appears to be increasing among young and middle-aged women.

What are the symptoms of IC?

Although the signs and symptoms of IC may resemble those of a chronic urinary tract infection, urine cultures are usually free of bacteria.

The most common symptoms of IC are the "IC3": Pain, Urgency, and Frequency.

  • Chronic pelvic pain
    • For women, this may include pain or pressure in the urethra, the vagina, the area above the pubic bone, the inside of the thighs, the lower abdomen, the lower back, the groin area, or any combination of these areas  
    • For men, this may include pain or pressure in the penis, testes and/or scrotum, the area above the pubic bone, the lower abdomen, the lower back, or the groin area, including testicular pain, or any combination of these areas  
  • Frequent urination – The average person urinates no more than 7 times per day. IC patients often urinate frequently both day and night
  • A strong urgency to urinate – During the day and night (nocturia), sometimes interrupting sleep 1 or more times at night. This feeling can be continuous or immediate, and often occurs when there are very small amounts of urine in the bladder
  • Pain or discomfort during sex

What causes IC?

The exact cause is unknown, but a number of theories exist:

  • Leaky bladder lining – Some experts believe that the bladder's protective mucous lining layer becomes thinned or is absent. A damaged bladder lining may allow irritating substances in the urine to aggravate the bladder wall and cause inflammation and pain

  • Antibodies against bladder lining – Patients with IC often have chronic immunologic disorders, such as fibromyalgia and Sjögren’s syndrome.  These patients may have antibodies against the mucosa, muscle cells, or various other components of the bladder lining

  • Antiproliferative factor – In recent years, researchers have isolated a substance found almost exclusively in the urine of people with IC. It is called antiproliferative factor (APF) because it appears to block the normal growth of cells that line the inside of the bladder

IC may not be caused by one specific factor, but rather may be due to a number of causes. Whatever the reason, it’s important to remember that IC is real and can cause painful symptoms in the pelvic region.

It’s also important to remember that there are treatments available that may help.