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12 Signs You Might Have Interstitial Cystitis

Check with your doctor if you’re experience any of these cystitis symptoms, described by Nicole Cozean, PT, DPT, WCS, CSCS and Jesse Cozean, MBA, in their book, ‘The Interstitial Cystitis Solution.’


What is interstitial cystitis?

“Experts have argued over the exact language and terminology for IC for almost 150 years, which means there’s still a lot of confusion for patients and practitioners,” the authors write in The Interstitial Cystitis Solution. Also known as terms such as painful bladder syndrome and hypersensitive bladder, interstitial cystitis is chronic inflammation that causes bladder pain and discomfort without an identifiable source. Ask a medical expert if you think you might have the condition. Here are 13 secrets your bladder wishes it could tell you.


You have more than 7 bathroom visits

The average adult pees between four and six times a day. More than that could be a sign of a bladder problem. “Patients with this symptom may be tempted to rationalize it away with excuses such as, ‘I drink a lot of water,’ ‘I’m going just in case,’ or ‘I must have a small bladder,’” the Cozeans write. Don’t make justifications if you think you might have a medical issue—95 percent of people with IC find themselves looking for a restroom more often. Find out what else your urine reveals about your health.


Your pants are uncomfortable

Every IC patient surveyed has described pain above the bladder, just a few inches below the belly button. The pain gets worse as the bladder gets fuller, which could explain why the body wants to go to the bathroom more often—an emptier bladder means less pain. “In some cases, the region can be so tender that even waistband pressure can be unbearable,” the authors write.


The urge to go comes on quickly

Almost as common to IC as frequent bathroom breaks are is the urgent need, when you experience the sudden, desperate impulse to run to the toilet. Emptying your bladder should take at least 10 seconds if everything’s running smoothly. “If your bladder empties in less time, it wasn’t full, and you are experiencing urinary urgency,” the authors write.


You’re feeling pee shy

Ironically, even though people with IC feel the urgent need to use the bathroom, nothing comes out once they’re there, or it trickles out slowly. Part of this is because their bladders weren’t actually full enough to require a potty stop, but it’s also a muscle problem. IC causes pelvic floor muscles to tighten, making it harder to relax enough to pee. To top it all off, IC patients tend to feel anxiety about bathroom breaks, giving them a form of shy bladder. This experience could also be a sign of bladder cancer.


Your bladder never feels empty

Despite how often they urinate, IC patients often feel like they can never hit empty. For some, this could be because tight pelvic floor muscles make it hard for the bladder to contract to get out the last bits of urine. For others, the bladder might be so sensitive that they feel like they still need to go, even though they’ve already gotten all the liquid out. Here are other clues you might have a problem with your pelvic floor.

In fact, your bladder always feels full

Bladder tightness and compression are often described as the feeling of a constantly full bladder. Along with this, some people feel pressure a few inches below their belly buttons. Left untreated, this could turn from a dull pressure to full-on pain.


Your bladder hurts like crazy

Extreme pain in the urethra or around the bladder could be a symptom of IC. “Patients have described it as a twisting knife, an acidic kind of burning, or the feeling that there is ground glass in the bladder and urethra,” the authors write.


Bathroom breaks get in the way of your sleep

Getting up once during the night to empty your bladder is one thing, but any more than that could signal IC. While you’re asleep, your bladder is slowly, constantly filling. Most people don’t notice it until it’s full, but people with IC are more sensitive to feelings in the bladder. “The slow trickle of urine into the bladder can be enough that the body interprets it as a ‘wake up and go’ signal,” the authors write. This could also be a symptom of uterine fibroids.


Restroom visits cause burning

While peeing or right afterward, you could experience urethral pain. Experts aren’t sure why the burning sensation occurs, though some say issues with the pelvic floor muscles could irritate the muscles and nerves controlling how urine passes. Others guess the lining of the bladder or urethra gets damaged, letting in toxins that hurt as they pass. Think it could be a urinary tract infection? Read more about surprising UTI causes here.


You leak before you make it to the toilet

About half of IC patients experience incontinence, even if infrequently. One reason is that with the urgent need to urinate, the bladder spasms. With the pelvic floor weakened, it can be hard to hold urine in. Pressure from coughing, sneezing, laughing, or lifting a heavy object can also lead to leakage. Find stress incontinence treatments here.

iStock/Abel Mitja Varela

Sex has become painful

Painful intercourse is a classic symptom of pelvic floor dysfunction, and IC is no exception. Most women with IC feel pain in the vagina, bladder, or urethra—or all three—after having sex, and the pain might last for several days. Men can also experience pain in the testicles, penis, urethra, or bladder, either during erection or ejaculation. Don’t miss these other reasons behind painful sex.


Your pelvis is in pain

Because their pelvic floor muscles are overactive or tight, people with IC can experience pelvic pain. This pain can be felt in the perineum or rectum, or in women’s vaginas and men’s penises or scrotums. Here’s what else your vagina wants to tell you.

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Help reduce your cystitits symptoms

Nicole Cozean, PT, DPT, WCS, CSCS, founded the PelvicSanity clinic in Laguna Hills, California, to deliver physical therapy to people with pelvic pain conditions. She’s also on the board of directors of the Interstitial Cystitis Association. Jesse Cozean, MBA, is a medical researcher and author who has designed and overseen clinical trials of drugs. Pick up their book, The Interstitial Cystitis Solution (Fair Winds, 2016), to find a treatment plan that fits your lifestyle and symptoms.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest