Do IC (Interstitial Cystitis) and UTIs have anything in common?

November 14, 2017 Kaitlyn Matousek


Are IC and UTIs related? For the most part, no. Although the two common conditions share the same symptoms, IC is a distinct chronic bladder issue.

The difference between Cystitis and a UTI

It can be challenging to put on a brave face and go about your daily routine while suffering from bladder pain. Frequent urinary tract problems like Interstitial cystitis (IC) or recurring UTIs can seriously disrupt your daily life. Unfortunately, both issues are incredibly common—IC affects around 4-12 million people in the U.S. and UTIs account for as many as 8.1 million visits to healthcare providers every year according to the National Institute of Child Health and Development.

UTIs and IC are both very prevalent and can sometimes have the same symptoms, but that’s really where the similarities end. Because IC can cause an urgent and frequent need to urinate, it isn’t uncommon for IC to be misdiagnosed as a UTI. Ultimately, ICs and UTIs are completely separate and need to be handled as distinct issues.

What Is IC?

IC stands for Interstitial Cystitis. Cystitis translates to “inflammation of the urinary bladder”. (IC) is a chronic bladder problem caused by inflammation or irritation of the bladder wall.

  • Ulcerative IC: Characterized when Hunner's ulcers form on walls of your bladder. Ulcerative IC affects approximately 5-10% of people diagnosed with IC.
  • Non-ulcerative IC: The much more common case is when one develops very small hemorrhages (ruptured blood vessels) on their bladder wall.

Common symptoms of interstitial cystitis (IC)

  • Urgent and frequent urination
  • Pain and pressure on genital area
  • Painful intercourse
  • Chronic urinary tract symptoms lasting more than 6 weeks
  • Most people with IC are diagnosed aged 30 and above.

What Causes IC?
Because IC varies from person to person it’s very difficult to track down one culprit. IC can be caused by a defect in the lining of your urinary bladder, diet, allergy, or an autoimmune disorder. Certain foods, emotional stress, physical stress, and a menstrual cycle are common triggers that can cause your IC to flare up. It is important to note that IC is NOT caused by a bacterial infection like UTIs are and should not be treated with antibiotics.

How to treat IC
There is not one no single cure-all treatment for IC, and the treatment approach varies. The best treatment should be modified for the specific patient. Treatments can range anywhere from simple lifestyle changes to surgery.

Here is a list of varied approaches to managing IC that may be worth exploring. Keep in mind that if you do have IC, we recommend you consult your physician:

Reduce stress: Reducing stress can really help IC symptoms. Try yoga, meditation or controlled breathing. If those aren’t up your alley, I find reaching out and spending quality time with my friends a great way to de-stress.

Keep a food diary: IC can be heavily affected by your diet. Try keeping a food diary and recording what you eat and how you physically feel every day. This will allow you to detect if a certain food is causing flare-ups and is a great way to record what helps to lose weight. 

Try gardenia essential oil: Gardenia is a natural anti-inflammatory. Try adding a few drops to your morning tea or apply a warm compress to lower abdomen to help manage your IC pain

Train your bladder: Urinate at set intervals, whether you feel the urge to go or not. This will slowly train your bladder to wait longer intervals between bathroom visits. Start out with half-hour intervals and gradually increase time

Explore acupuncture: It originated in traditional Chinese Medicine, and is believed to boosts the activity of your body's natural painkillers.

Look into neuromodulation therapy:  the name given to treatments that deliver harmless electrical impulses to nerves to change how they work.   

Ask your doctor about bladder Ulcer Cauterization: If you have Hunner's ulcers having them removed or having steroid injections may give long-term relief for around one year. This treatment can be repeated if necessary.

Doctor Visit Tips

  • Go with a family member or close friend. Doctors can sometimes give you a lot of overwhelming information and have a second pair of ears can be reassuring and helpful.  
  • Prepare a list of questions you want to ask your doctor. Some good questions may be: What kind of tests might I need? Will changing my diet help with my symptoms? Are there any medications that would help? Will I need surgery?
Even though bladder pain may feel isolating at times it is important to realize you aren’t alone. There are tons of resources online like the Interstitial Cystitis Association if you ever need a little extra support.  

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