Understanding Interstitial Cystitis & How To Manage “Flare Ups”

Interstitial cystitis patients often struggle with “IC flare ups,” a sudden and dramatic worsening of their bladder symptoms. Lasting from hours to weeks, IC flares can be unpredictable, disruptive and difficult to manage for both newly diagnosed and existing IC patients. Many IC patients quickly learn the subtle, yet distinct differences in the onset, duration and symptoms of flares depending upon the trigger.

Food related flares, for example, can be felt within minutes or hours of eating a risk food and may last a day or longer. A sex induced flare may occur 24-48 hours after intimacy and last for several days. Hormone induced flares, such as the flare which may occur during ovulation, may last just a few hours. The good news, however, is that many IC flares are preventable and are often predictable.

Depending upon the triggering event, an IC patient may experience a variety of symptoms during their flare up. For example, patients may experience urinary frequency, especially at night. Mild IC patients may urinate 10 or more times in a 24-hour period, while more severe IC patients urinate 40 or more times a day. Some IC patients struggle with a sudden need to urinate and/or a sensation of constant pressure to urinate.

Flares can also provoke mild to severe pain. During most IC flares, the pain worsens as the bladder fills with urine and may be relieved after urination.

Could The Fare Up Be A Bladder Infection (UTI)?

Many IC patients automatically assume that if they have bladder symptoms, they must have a UTI. In fact, some have taken antibiotics for years only to discover after the fact that they never had infection. They were just having IC flares. The symptoms are virtually identical. Patients with a UTI, however, may have an additional burning sensation in the urethra during urination.

Managing Interstitial Cystitis

Having IC is like having an injured bladder. With IC, the bladder wall has tiny wounds in it. One remedy you can do to manage IC is to make sure that you’re drinking an adequate amount of water, and also moderate your diet, by avoiding beverages such as coffee or tea.

According to the Interstitial Cystitis Network, how you manage a flare depends, in great part, upon what triggered it. For example, if you’re having a flare from a long car ride or intimacy, your primary goal is to calm and soothe the muscles, by using a heating pad or a muscle relaxant. Of course, this isn’t the time to go aggravate the muscles further by exercising in depth.

If you’re having a flare from diet, which tends to be more sharp and uncomfortable, you may want to drink some extra water to help dilute the urine in your bladder. Hormone induced flares are often so short term that you may not need much to get through it other than the use of a heating pad or, if needed, some pain medication.

Flares from chemical exposures, such as laundry detergent, are also often short term but can create extreme pain and discomfort in the vulvar and perineal area. In these cases, it’s important to wear loose clothing, use a periwash bottle (filled with cold water) to instantly calm and soothe those very tender tissues. Some patients report that cold packs (wrapped in a towel before placed on the crotch) can help.

If you suspect you have IC or are having trouble managing it, contact a UCA physician near you for a consultation.