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What Are the Causes of Interstitial Cystitis?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Interstitial cystitis is a chronic bladder condition that can be extremely uncomfortable or even painful. Though not linked to severe health risks, interstitial cystitis, or IC, does not have a known cure, and must be managed through diet, drug therapy, and some medical procedures. The causes of interstitial cystitis are not proven, but many experts believe that nerve irregularity, leaks in the bladder wall, heredity, and allergies may have something to do with occurrence of this condition.

Though expert opinion varies, some medical professionals believe that one of the major causes of interstitial cystitis is an abnormal nerve response. When a normal bladder is full, the weight of the urine presses on the nerves, which is interpreted by the brain as the signal to go to the bathroom. In patients with IC, nerves are activated regardless of bladder fullness, leading to a frequent or constant need to empty the bladder. Some patients also report a feeling of hypersensitivity in the lower pelvis, which has led some medical researchers to conclude that the nerves are oversensitive or misfiring.

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There is some correlation between IC and the occurrence of other inflammatory conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Some experts believe that people with IC may develop the disease either because of a tendency toward inflammation, or because structural problems in the bladder and bowels lead to a higher-than-normal chance of inflammation. Neither of these causes of interstitial cystitis have been conclusively proven, however, since many patients with the condition do not show signs of tendency toward inflammation.

Another one of the suspected causes of interstitial cystitis is allergies to food. Certain foods are known to trigger IC “flares” or episodes of urinary discomfort. Though not all patients experience the same triggers, some of the most common culprits cited include caffeinated beverages, alcohol, chocolate, and citrus fruits. Some patients see improvement when avoiding trigger foods, while others may continue to have symptoms despite a strict diet. Still others may not experience any flares when eating trigger foods.

While not technically causes of interstitial cystitis, certain factors are believed to raise the risk of the condition. Women are far more likely to develop IC than men, and women over 40 are more likely than younger women. Some experts believe there is a hereditary link that can predict the presence of IC, so women with sisters or mothers with IC may have an increased risk of developing it. Though a fairly common condition, little is known or understood about IC because it is frequently misdiagnosed and misunderstood. Women with a long history of suspected urinary tract infections may want to undergo testing to determine if IC is a possibility.

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