Millions of People Have This Common Bladder Condition & Don't Even Know It

May 17, 2018 at 12:45 p.m. ET
Image: Elenaleonova/Getty Images

A common bladder pain syndrome, though often misdiagnosed or ignored, is interstitial cystitis or IC for short. According to the Interstitial Cystitis Association, close to 12 million people suffer from IC, with the gender ratio breaking down to about 8 million women and 4 million men. Doctors typically medicate their patients with pain relievers as a quick cure, resulting in an onslaught of addiction and the persistence of IC — which cannot be cured.

HelloFlo talked to Robert J. Evans, doctor of urology at Wake Forest University, who said that the "glycosaminoglycan layer in the bladder protects the underlying layers of the bladder from irritating substances such as potassium, which can cause pain. When this layer has poorly functional acid, potassium can leak into the interstitial layer, where it causes degranulation of histamine-releasing cells." He explains that "the histamine release activates sensory nerves and these nerves carry a painful stimulus to the spinal cord and brain causing painful urination."

More: 3 Tips for Managing an Irritable Bladder

Pain can also vary in degree. Urinating may just feel like a small sting or it can be serious burning. Evans says, "In essence, the bladder reacts like it is allergic to the urine itself and releases histamine."

Symptoms are difficult to detect, can range in terms of pain and can often be misdiagnosed as an infection. Many patients are unaware of the disease because of the wide range of diseases the symptoms can cover.

Think you have IC or would like to see a specialist about the pain? Here are a few questions to ask yourself before making an appointment:

  • Have you had urinary pain that has lasted longer than six weeks?
  • Have you made sure you don't have a kidney stone or any other infection?
  • Do you have pain or pressure below your belly button?
  • Do you have urgent bathroom trips, sometimes 40 to 60 times a day?
  • Do you have painful intercourse?
  • Do you tend to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraines or chronic fatigue syndrome as well?

Simple treatments include diet, stress reduction and other help therapies like yoga, exercise and pilates. More immediate treatments are hydroxyzine, amitriptyline and Tagamet, with Botox injections and surgery also being options. One of the biggest hazards presented with a misdiagnosis of IC is the possibility of prescription drug addiction for those who are given large doses of painkillers to cope with the pain temporarily.

According to Mercola, "More than 70 million prescriptions for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are written each year, and according to 2010 data, there were enough narcotic painkillers being prescribed in the U.S. to medicate every single adult, around the clock, for a month."

More: What's Your "Peehavior"? It's Time We Discuss Bladder Health Openly

How is IC being addressed for the future? The Multidisciplinary Approach to Pelvic Pain Project is a project based at Wake Forest University. Their efforts are trying to better understand the disease through research and to openly discuss the symptoms as a means for finding a cure or better means to coping.

By S. Nicole Lane

Originally published on HelloFlo. A version of this article was originally published in April 2017.

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