Interstitial Cystitis – Symptoms & Causes

As a Vulva Doctor will tell you: Interstitial Cystitis is a long-term condition which causes bladder pain, bladder pressure, and in some instances, pelvic pain. The pain scale ranges from mild discomfort to severe unbearable pain. This unwelcome condition is a part of a spectrum of diseases which are classed as Painful Bladder Syndrome

Bladder Function

Our bladder is a muscular hollow organ that serves to store our urine. It expands until it’s at full capacity, at which point it signals to our brain (via the pelvic nerves), that it’s time to urinate. – And it is this signalling action which generates the urge to urinate [1].

The Low-Down on Interstitial Cystitis

Our urinary system comprises: our bladder, kidneys, ureters and urethra. If a person is suffering from interstitial cystitis, the walls of their bladder become inflamed and irritated [1].

“With interstitial cystitis, signals from the bladder to the brain get mixed up — you feel the need to urinate more often and with smaller volumes of urine than most people. Interstitial cystitis most often affects women, and can have a long-lasting impact on quality of life “[1]. But the good news is that specific targeted medications, and a range of cutting-edge therapies provided by Vulva Consultants can offer relief and help patients get their life back on track

What Interstitial Cystitis Symptoms Should I Report?

If you experience any of the following, book an online or in-person appointment with a Vulva Pain Doctor, as soon as possible:

• Pain in your pelvis, or in the case of women: between your vagina and anus
• In the case of men: pain between your scrotum and anus (perineum)
• Long-term pelvic pain
• An urgent, persistent demand to urinate
• Frequent urination (this is often in small amounts) throughout the day and night. Note: such activity could add up to as much as 50 or 60 times per day
• Pain during sexual intercourse
• Experiencing discomfort and/or pain whilst the bladder fills up; and feeling relief after urination [1]

Of note: as Vulva Specialists explain to their patients: the symptoms and signs of interstitial cystitis vary from one individual to another. Moreover, some sufferers may experience symptom-free periods [1].

“If you have interstitial cystitis, your symptoms may also vary over time, periodically flaring in response to common triggers, such as menstruation, sitting for a long time, stress, exercise and sexual activity” [1]

Did You Know?

Signs and symptoms of interstitial cystitis are often similar to long-term urinary tract infection; yet in the majority of cases, there is no infection present. But, if an individual with interstitial cystitis gets a urinary tract infection, their symptoms can become worse [1].

Risk Factors Linked to a Higher Risk of Interstitial Cystitis

These include:

• Sex: of note, females are diagnosed with interstitial cystitis more frequently than males. Moreover, as Vulva Consultants frequently witness: many men experience interstitial cystitis symptoms, yet the latter are due to prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland), rather than interstitial cystitis
• Age: the majority of patients with interstitial cystitis, have received a diagnosis when they were in their 30s or above
• Having a Long-Term Pain Disorder: interstitial cystitis could be linked to other chronic pain disorders. (These include fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) [1]

Preparing For & Having a Diagnosis With a Vulva Pain Specialist

In the first instance, you should compile a ‘Bladder Diary.’ This should have a separate page for each day, and feature hourly time slots. After reviewing your medical history, your Vulva Pain Doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms, along with details such as (a): the volume of fluids that you drink every day (for example, 2 litres of still mineral water plus one cup of herbal tea), and (b): the volume of urine you pass in 24 hours. So to that end, note all these points down in your diary. Your Vulva Doctor will then conduct, or arrange a date for you to have one or more of the following:
• A urine test
• A pelvic exam
• A cystoscopy
• A biopsy
• Urine cytology, and
• A potassium sensitivity test [1]


[1]. Mayo Clinic (2021). “Interstitial cystitis.”