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What is Interstitial Cystitis?

Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a recurring painful condition of the bladder and the adjacent pelvic areas. It is also known as the painful bladder syndrome. As the name suggests, the bladder pain is due to irritation of the bladder wall.

Both men and women can suffer from IC, irrespective of their age, but women in their middle age are known to be commonly affected with IC.

Normally, the bladder and urethra are lined by epithelium known as glycosaminoglycan (GAG) layer [Figure 3].

GAG layer functions by

  • defending the bladder wall from the irritants and toxins in the urine and
  • preventing bladder infections by keeping bacteria away from sticking to the bladder.1


Causes of IC

The cause of IC remains a mystery. However, studies have found that IC is not caused by any viral or bacterial infection. The proposed causes are enlisted in [Table 1].

Causes of IC

How Does IC Begin?

IC can occur even in the absence of any recognisable cause. It can occur following a severe bacterial infection, any gynaecological surgery or even child birth. The symptoms may progress slowly over a period of time or may be sudden and severe. Prolonged period of IC can progress to advanced stages where the bladder will be shrunken and scarred, decreasing its capacity to hold urine. As the symptoms of IC are similar to those seen with urinary tract infection/bladder infection, they may be misdiagnosed. Often physicians diagnose IC only after infectious causes are ruled out or patients fail to respond to antibiotic treatment.1,2

  1. Homma Y, Ueda T, Ito T, Takei M, Tomoe H. Japanese guideline for diagnosis and treatment of interstitial cystitis. Int J Urol. 2008; 16(1):4-16.
  2. Meijlik JM. Interstitial cystitis, diagnosis and treatment - an overview. International Painful Bladder Foundation. Available at: