When you have interstitial cystitis (IC), a painful bladder syndrome, every bathroom trip is stressful.
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“Whether you’re newly diagnosed or have been living with IC for longer than you’d care to think about, you can take steps to get relief,” says urologist Howard Goldman, MD. “There’s no one approach that works for everyone with IC, so try these things alone and in combination to see what works best for you.”
If you’ve already advanced the treatment ladder to more aggressive treatments, you may still want to try these five measures for greater relief.
#1: Watch your diet
Certain foods may trigger IC:
- Spicy foods: Peppers, garlic and spicy sauces.
- Caffeine: Coffee, tea, soda and chocolate.
- Beverages: Alcohol, carbonated drinks and beverages with artificial sweeteners.
- Acidic foods: Citrus fruits and tomatoes.
“Don’t try to eliminate everything at once,” says Dr. Goldman. “Stop something for a week or two, then reintroduce it if you didn’t notice any changes in your symptoms. A week or two later, stop something else. Use trial and error to determine what your triggers are.”
While it’s generally a good idea to drink plenty of water, not everyone with IC agrees: “Some people find that when they drink less, they have fewer painful trips to the bathroom ,” says Dr. Goldman. “However, others find that drinking more water decreases the concentration of the urine and makes it less painful.” Check with your doctor before cutting your water intake too much.”
#2: Take your activity level up a notch
“Many patients with painful bladder syndrome also have trigger points or tight muscles in the pelvic area. They may wonder if the tightness causes the IC or if the IC causes the tightness,” says Dr. Goldman.
“Try to maintain a moderate activity level because that’s important for general health,” he advises. “If muscle tightness causes IC, then you might find relief through stretching and exercise.”
#3: Get “down there” care
Dr. Goldman recommends seeing a physical therapist (PT) with experience treating pelvic pain. Your PT can massage tight areas and teach you how to relax pelvic muscles. You can then practice those relaxation exercises regularly.
“Pelvic floor physical therapy can help loosen the tight muscles that are related to IC pain,” says Dr. Goldman. “If you’ve sworn off sex because, well, pain isn’t so sensual, then PT might even get you back to an active sex life.”
#4: Reduce stress
IC pain can be psychologically devastating and debilitating — pain is stressful. That stress can manifest itself in tight muscles and a bleak outlook.
“Research shows that stress causes heightened pain sensitivity,” says Dr. Goldman. “If you’re in pain, you get stressed, which leads to more pain. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Dr. Goldman recommends stress reduction activities like yoga, meditation and massage. A counseling session is another great way to help you wrap your head around living with chronic bladder pain.
#5: Reach for OTC relief
Dr. Goldman advises hitting the drugstore to help control bladder pain. His top recommendations are:
- Calcium glycerophosphate (CG): OTC bladder pain meds contain CG. It may buffer the acid in the foods you eat, which allows you to eat some of the foods that otherwise cause problems.
- A heating pad or cold compress: You may get relief by putting a heating pad or cold compress over the perineal area.
- Fiber: Constipation often aggravates IC, so eat more fiber or throw a constipation-relieving product in your cart at the drugstore.