No simple treatment eliminates 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.

Physical therapy

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

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 sodium (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 polysulfate sodium (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

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 increase blood flow to the bladder. This may strengthen the muscles that help control the bladder or trigger 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 sends 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. This procedure doesn't manage pain from interstitial cystitis, but may help to relieve some symptoms of urinary frequency and urgency.

Bladder distention

Some people notice a temporary improvement in symptoms after cystoscopy with bladder distention. Bladder distention is the stretching of the bladder with water. If you have long-term improvement, the procedure may be repeated.

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 about 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 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 fail and symptoms affect quality of life. Surgical options include:

  • 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, a surgeon increases the capacity of your bladder by putting a patch of intestine on the bladder. However, this is performed only in very specific and rare instances. The procedure doesn't eliminate pain and some people need to empty their bladders with a catheter many times a day.

Alternative medicine

Two complementary and alternative therapies show some promise in treating interstitial cystitis:

  • Guided imagery. This type of therapy employs visualization and direct suggestions using imagery to help you imagine healing, with the hope that the body will follow the mind's suggestions.
  • Acupuncture. During an acupuncture session, a practitioner places numerous thin needles in your skin at specific points on your body. According to traditional Chinese medicine, precisely placed acupuncture needles relieve pain and other symptoms by rebalancing the flow of life energy. Western medical practitioners tend to believe that acupuncture boosts the activity of your body's natural painkillers.

These treatments have not been well-studied for interstitial cystitis, so be sure to discuss the use of these therapies with your doctor.