A hidden cause of bladder pain


DOES THIS SOUND familiar? Chronic, shooting pelvic pain; an unrelenting urge to pee (up to 60 times a day); and a doctor who doles out antibiotics faster than Prada sells out of shoes. More than likely, that doc thinks either you've got a bladder infection or you're a world-class whiner. But something else could be creating the havoc below. A handful of new studies hint that many cases of chronic pelvic pain could in fact be linked to interstitial cystitis (IC), a debilating bladder inflammation that affects roughly 700,000 women in the United States. The symptoms mimic those of bladder infections, but antibiotics won't alleviate the stabbing sensation or that got-to-go feeling. There's no cure, and the cause is just as elusive. Two likely theories: the organ's lining lacks protective molecules, or clusters of inflammatory cells settle into the bladder's wall.

Still, lifestyle changes and medication can ease the pain. Eliminating alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and acidic foods may lessen IC discomfort. Antidepressants, antihistamines, even aspirin and ibuprofen have helped some women, and in a recent study, a prescription drug called Elmiron relieved symptoms in 38 percent of sufferers. More extreme options include bathing the bladder in a medicated rinse, which reduces inflammation and blocks pain, or stretching it, which helps increase its capacity and cuts down on trips to the bathroom.

IC has fallen under the diagnostic radar mostly because there isn't a reliable test to detect it. As a result, the average patient--a woman, nine times out of 10--suffers four years or more and consults five different physicians before she receives an accurate diagnosis. In the future, researchers hope to develop a urinary marker for IC, but for now, doctors detect it by ruling out other possibilities.

For more information, contact the Interstitial Cystitis Network (www.ic-network.com or 707-5389442).


By Catherine Guthrie

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