Interstitial cystitis not only causes chronic urinary tract problems, the disorder can be quite painful, negatively impacting your emotional well-being and leading to a decreased quality of life. Learning to recognize the symptoms and getting a confirmed diagnosis early on following an appropriate diagnostic workup can help prevent silent suffering and the frustration of not getting a proper diagnosis.
Symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis
Although the condition can cause a number of symptoms – which may be only mildly uncomfortable or put you in debilitating pain – some of the more common symptoms include:
Feeling of urinary urgency
Pressure in the bladder
Pain in the lower abdomen and lower back
Pain in the perineum, the area between the vagina and anus in women – the penis, testicles, and scrotum in men
Pain in the urethra – a duct connected to the bladder through which urine flows out of the body
The pain associated with interstitial cystitis can be mild to severe. For some women, the symptoms are constant; other individuals experience symptoms that come and go over time, experiencing both flares and remissions.
Causes of Interstitial Cystitis
Even though more than 1 million people in the U.S. suffer the symptoms of this painful bladder disorder, the exact cause isn't known. Heredity, autoimmune disorders, an over-distended bladder, trauma to the spinal cord, and pelvic floor muscle dysfunction are just some of the potential contributing factors. Although interstitial cystitis occurs in some women following hysterectomy – even if they did not have bladder issues before the surgery – doctors don't know why.
Diagnosis of Interstitial Cystitis
Because interstitial cystitis causes symptoms that can mimic other health conditions, the syndrome isn't easy to diagnose. If you experience symptoms that suggest you may be suffering from interstitial cystitis, in addition to taking your medical history and performing a pelvic examination, your doctor may order one or more of these diagnostic tests:
Urinalysis is a lab study to test for urinary tract infection or kidney disease. It's a common screening tool doctors order when patients first complain of painful or frequent urination with abdominal or back pain.
Potassium sensitivity test
The potassium sensitivity test is a common test doctors use in diagnosing interstitial cystitis. Solutions of water and then potassium chloride are instilled into your bladder through a thin tube. Feeling pain symptoms or urgency when the solutions are instilled may indicate interstitial cystitis. Your doctor can perform the procedure in his or her office.
The procedure, which is usually performed on an out-patient basis under anesthesia, allows the doctor to see the inside of your bladder. Your doctor may recommend cytoscopy if you have painful urination or chronic pelvic pain. The test involves inserting a thin tube with a camera on the end through the urethra into the bladder.
Generally, doctors rely on cytoscopy to exclude other conditions that may be responsible for causing your symptoms. A biopsy may be done at the same time to rule out cancer. A factor that supports the diagnosis of interstitial cystitis is if your bladder can hold only a small amount of urine while you are under anesthesia for the procedure.
These tests evaluate how well the bladder and urethra function at storing and releasing the flow urine. Your doctor may order the test if you suffer from frequent urination. Since the test measures the volume of urine you release as well as how fast you can empty your bladder, your bladder must be full to begin the test.
Once you urinate, a catheter is inserted into your bladder to measure the amount of any urine you haven't voided. While this group of tests can't diagnose interstitial cystitis for certain, it can rule out other causes for your urinary problems.
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