Also called painful bladder syndrome, interstitial cystitis is a chronic condition characterized by bladder pressure, bladder pain and periodically pelvic pain. A hollow organ, the bladder is responsible for storing and processing urine. As the bladder fills with urine, it expands, and when it is full, it signals to the brain. The brain then transmits the information to the pelvic nerves, which creates the urge to urinate for most people. In individuals with interstitial cystitis, however, these signals are not communicated effectively, so an individual experiences the need to urinate more frequently even with less volume of urine than most people.
The common signs and symptoms of interstitial cystitis vary from person to person and may vary over time as interstitial cystitis is a condition that involves periodic “flaring” in response to triggers. Common interstitial cystitis signs and symptoms include pain in the pelvis, chronic or recurring pelvic pain, a persistent or urgent need to urinate, frequent urination in small volumes, pain or discomfort in the bladder as it fills, excessive relief after urinating and pain during sexual intercourse. Symptoms of interstitial cystitis may resemble those symptoms typical of a urinary tract infection; however, urine cultures are typically free of bacteria in an individual with interstitial cystitis.
While the specific cause of interstitial cystitis is not known, research suggests that several factors are involved. A defect in the protective lining of the bladder which allows toxic substances to leak out of the bladder, an autoimmune reaction, heredity, infection and allergy are accepted possible causes of interstitial cystitis.