No simple treatment exists to eliminate the signs and symptoms of interstitial cystitis, and no one treatment works for everyone. You may need to try various treatments or combinations of treatments before you find an approach that relieves your symptoms.
Working with a physical therapist may relieve pelvic pain associated with muscle tenderness, restrictive connective tissue or muscle abnormalities in your pelvic floor.
Oral medications that may improve the signs and symptoms of interstitial cystitis include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen (Aleve), to relieve pain.
- Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline or imipramine (Tofranil), to help relax your bladder and block pain.
- Antihistamines, such as loratadine (Claritin, others), which may reduce urinary urgency and frequency and relieve other symptoms.
- Pentosan (Elmiron), which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration specifically for treating interstitial cystitis. How it works is unknown, but it may restore the inner surface of the bladder, which protects the bladder wall from substances in urine that could irritate it. It may take two to four months before you begin to feel pain relief and up to six months to experience a decrease in urinary frequency.
Nerve stimulation techniques include:
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). With TENS, mild electrical pulses relieve pelvic pain and, in some cases, reduce urinary frequency. TENS may work by increasing blood flow to the bladder, strengthening the muscles that help control the bladder or triggering the release of substances that block pain. Electrical wires placed on your lower back or just above your pubic area deliver electrical pulses — the length of time and frequency of therapy depends on what works best for you.
- Sacral nerve stimulation. Your sacral nerves are a primary link between the spinal cord and nerves in your bladder. Stimulating these nerves may reduce urinary urgency associated with interstitial cystitis. With sacral nerve stimulation, a thin wire placed near the sacral nerves delivers electrical impulses to your bladder, similar to what a pacemaker does for your heart. If the procedure decreases your symptoms, you may have a permanent device surgically implanted.
Some people notice a temporary improvement in symptoms after undergoing cystoscopy with bladder distention. Bladder distention is the stretching of the bladder with water or gas. The procedure may be repeated as a treatment if the response is long lasting.
Medications instilled into the bladder
In bladder instillation, your doctor places the prescription medication dimethyl sulfoxide (Rimso-50) into your bladder through a thin, flexible tube (catheter) inserted through the urethra. The solution sometimes is mixed with other medications, such as a local anesthetic, and remains in your bladder for 15 minutes. You urinate to expel the solution.
You might receive dimethyl sulfoxide — also called DMSO — treatment weekly for six to eight weeks, and then have maintenance treatments as needed — such as every couple of weeks, for up to one year.
A newer approach to bladder instillation uses a solution containing the medications lidocaine, sodium bicarbonate, and either pentosan or heparin.
Doctors rarely use surgery to treat interstitial cystitis because removing part or all of the bladder doesn't relieve pain and can lead to other complications. People with severe pain or those whose bladders can hold only very small volumes of urine are possible candidates for surgery, but usually only after other treatments have failed. Surgical options include:
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- Fulguration. This minimally invasive method involves insertion of instruments through the urethra to burn off ulcers that may be present with interstitial cystitis.
- Resection. This is another minimally invasive method that involves insertion of instruments through the urethra to cut around any ulcers.
- Bladder augmentation. In this procedure, surgeons remove the damaged portion of the bladder and replace it with a piece of the colon, but the pain still remains and some people need to empty their bladders with a catheter many times a day.
- Interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/interstitialcystitis/. Accessed July 17, 2013.
- Clemens JQ. Pathogenesis, clinical features, and diagnosis of interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed July 17, 2013.
- Interstitial cystitis. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/genitourinary_disorders/voiding_disorders/interstitial_cystitis.html. Accessed July 17, 2013.
- Wein AJ, et al. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2012. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Aug. 1, 2013.
- Clemens JQ. Management of interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed July 17, 2013.
- Diagnosis and treatment of interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome. Linthicum, Md.: American Urological Association. http://www.auanet.org/education/guidelines/ic-bladder-pain-syndrome.cfm. Accessed Aug. 1, 2013.
- Longo DL, et al. Harrison's Online. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=4. Accessed Aug. 1, 2013.