Interstitial Cystitis Self-Care Practices for Symptomatic Relief

A woman holding her abdomen in pain
  • Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a condition that develops when the bladder wall becomes irritated.

  • The exact cause of this condition isn’t fully understood, but factors like stress, hormonal changes, and diet are believed to play a role.

  • Self-care practices can form part of a comprehensive approach to treating IC, but it’s important to note that they should typically be used alongside medication.

  • These practices may involve following a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, implementing bladder training techniques, and managing stress.

Interstitial cystitis is a complex, life-long condition that affects millions of Americans each year. Because of its complexity, this condition can be challenging to diagnose and treat.

Treatment approaches usually involve a combination of symptom management strategies, including taking medications, incorporating physical therapy, and practicing self-care.

Understanding Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial cystitis (IC) — or bladder pain syndrome (BPS) — is a chronic condition that develops when the bladder walls become irritated and inflamed.

This can cause pain and discomfort in the pelvic muscles, ranging from mild to severe.

It’s not clear what exactly causes IC to develop, but most healthcare professionals agree that the following factors may play a role:

  • Stress

  • Hormonal changes

  • Caffeine consumption

  • Alcohol consumption

  • Eating spicy or acidic foods

Key Point: Symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis

In addition to pelvic pain, IC can also cause various uncomfortable urinary symptoms, such as:

  • Increased urinary frequency and urgency
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Pain during urination or sex
  • Blood in the urine

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s recommended to consult your doctor for a professional opinion.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosing IC can be challenging because its symptoms often overlap with other conditions like a urinary tract infection (UTI), an overactive bladder, or bladder cancer.

There’s no definitive test for IC, and it’s often diagnosed using a process of elimination. This means that doctors will first rule out other conditions before diagnosing a patient with IC.

The diagnostic process may include:

  • A medical history review

  • Physical examination

  • Urine tests to rule out infection

  • A cystoscopy, which involves inserting a thin tube with a camera into the bladder to look for abnormalities

Depending on the outcome of these procedures, your doctor may recommend further testing or other medical interventions.

5 Self-Care Practices for Managing Interstitial Cystitis Symptoms

1. Eat bladder-friendly foods

Your diet plays a crucial role in managing symptoms of IC and alleviating discomfort.

Many individuals find that certain foods and drinks can trigger or worsen their symptoms, so following a diet that excludes these items may be useful.

Following an IC-friendly diet involves avoiding the following food and drinks:

  • Caffeinated beverages, like coffee and energy drinks

  • Citrus fruits

  • Spicy foods

  • Artificial sweeteners

  • Alcohol

  • Carbonated beverages

To manage your symptoms by adjusting your diet, you can incorporate more foods that are bladder-friendly, such as:

  • Fruits like bananas, pears, blueberries, and melons

  • Vegetables like avocado, carrots, beans, and cucumbers

  • Whole grains

  • Leafy greens

These foods can support optimal bladder health because they’re less likely to irritate the lining and cause inflammation.

It’s also easy for the body to process these foods and absorb their nutrients, which can help reduce digestive stress and lower the risk of inflammation.

It’s recommended to keep a food diary and note times when you have bladder pain. This can help you determine which foods trigger your symptoms and should be avoided.

2. Use stress management techniques

Stress can trigger an IC flare-up or worsen existing symptoms because it releases hormones — called cortisol and adrenaline — that affect bladder function.

Prolonged periods of stress can also negatively affect the body’s immune system and make it more susceptible to inflammation.

Using stress management techniques can be a great way to manage your IC symptoms while improving your quality of life. Common techniques may include:

  • Practicing relaxation through meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi

  • Finding a creative outlet for your emotions, such as painting or journaling

  • Avoiding harmful substances like drugs and alcohol

If your stress becomes overwhelming, it’s recommended to consult a licensed medical professional for guidance.

A doctor can provide more tailored management techniques to help you control your stress and live a healthier life.

3. Increase physical exercise

Exercise can help you strengthen your immune system and improve your overall health. This reduces the risk of developing infections and conditions like IC.

It’s important to note that not all forms of physical exercise are recommended for IC symptom management.

Low-impact activities are usually the best option, because they help maintain fitness and can lower stress without putting pressure on the bladder.

These activities include things like walking, swimming, and pilates. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise three to five days a week.

Activities that should generally be avoided include things like running and heavy weightlifting. These exercises may aggravate the condition and worsen your symptoms.

Some individuals may also experience a fear of leakage — especially if they suffer from increased urinary frequency — which can make it difficult to enjoy these activities.

If you’re still unsure about activities that can relieve pelvic pain and manage your condition, you can consult a physical therapist to develop a tailored training plan to help you.

4. Do bladder training exercises

Bladder training can improve bladder control and help reduce the urgency and frequency of urination. These exercises may involve:

  • Scheduling your urination times: Start by urinating at set intervals, regardless of urge, and gradually increase the time between bathroom visits.

  • Delay techniques: When you feel the urge to urinate, try to delay going to the bathroom for a few minutes. Gradually increase this delay time.

  • Mental strategies: Improving the mind-body connection by using techniques like deep breathing may serve as a distraction that can help you manage urinary urgency.

  • Pelvic floor muscle exercise: These exercises — also known as Kegel exercises — involve contracting and tightening the pelvic floor muscles that control urine flow. Over time, this can strengthen them, which helps improve bladder control and reduce leakages.

Implementing bladder training exercises can help you change your urinary habits and reduce their impact on your daily life.

5. Establish a healthy sleep routine

While it may not directly treat your bladder condition, good sleep practices can significantly impact your overall well-being and reduce the severity of your symptoms.

Having a good sleep routine can benefit you in the following ways:

  • Reduce stress that can exacerbate IC symptoms

  • Help regulate the body’s inflammatory responses and reduce unnecessary reactions

  • Help improve your pain tolerance, which may make discomfort associated with IC more manageable

  • Deep sleep is essential for the body to repair and heal itself, which may help reduce IC symptoms

  • Help regulate bladder function and reduce urinary frequency

  • Helps to boost your immune system, which is essential for fighting infections like IC

To establish a healthy sleep routine, it’s recommended that you:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends

  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine, such as reading or taking a warm bath beforehand

  • Ensure that your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool, to create an optimal sleep environment

  • Limit fluid intake a few hours before bedtime

  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and electronics that may disrupt sleep

Is Self-Care Enough to Treat Interstitial Cystitis?

IC is a complex chronic condition that doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution and often requires multiple treatment approaches.

This means that self-care alone is not sufficient to manage IC-related symptoms.

Lifestyle changes usually aren’t aggressive enough to fully treat and reduce symptoms, so it’s highly likely that you’ll also need to take oral medications to manage IC.

Many individuals rely on medical treatments and even surgical interventions alongside using self-care practices to alleviate discomfort and improve their well-being.

Although these self-care practices won’t necessarily be enough to treat your condition, they’re still essential for helping you maintain your overall health.

Should You See a Doctor About Interstitial Cystitis Treatments?

If you suspect that you have IC or are struggling with ongoing bladder pain and urinary symptoms, it’s crucial to consult your doctor.

While self-care and lifestyle adjustments can be beneficial in managing IC symptoms, professional medical advice and treatment play a key role in effectively managing this condition.

Seeing your doctor allows them to:

  • Make an accurate diagnosis

  • Provide a personalized treatment plan

  • Give you access to appropriate medications and therapies

Doctors can provide valuable resources and offer professional support for individuals with IC, which can help manage your condition.

Getting regular check-ups also allows them to monitor your symptoms and recommend alternative treatment options if something is abnormal.

Where Can You Learn More About Interstitial Cystitis?

If you’re concerned about your symptoms or want to know more about managing interstitial cystitis with self-care practices, LifeMD is here to help.

LifeMD can connect you to a team of medical professionals who can assist you with information and provide guidance on managing this condition while avoiding further complications — all from the comfort of your home.

Make an appointment today to get started.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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