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Understanding Incontinence

What is Interstitial Cystitis and how can it cause incontinence?

Find out everything you need to know about interstitial cystitis symptoms, from how they are linked to incontinence, to diagnosis and treatment.
Published by Adria Green
mum discussing interstitial cystitis

What is interstitial cystitis?

Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a condition which results in pain and pressure within the bladder region. It can also be known as painful bladder syndrome or bladder pain syndrome (BPS).

The condition tends to affect people mostly in their 30s and 40s, and is far more common in women than men. Although it isn’t always clear what causes interstitial cystitis, it can have a significant impact on your lifestyle if you leave it untreated, and can be a cause for incontinence as well as other issues. Read TENA’s guide on the symptoms of interstitial cystitis as well interstitial cystitis treatment recommendations below.

Interstitial cystitis symptoms

The most common symptom of interstitial cystitis is acute pain in the bladder area. The pain tends to be accompanied by frequent, sudden and uncontrollable urges to use the toilet, occasionally leading to incontinence issues.


As well as experiencing pain, people struggling with interstitial cystitis can suffer with urinary tract symptoms, lasting upwards of 6 weeks. Quite often the cause of the infection can be difficult to understand, and it can take a long time for people to realise that they may be suffering from insterstitial cysitits.


The pain associated with interstitial cystitis is typically felt within your pelvic area, just below your belly button although some women report pain in their vulva, bladder pain in men is mostly felt in the scrotum, testicle and/or penis.


Cystitis pain generally worsens when there is increased bladder pressure (i.e. your bladder is full), although more often than not you may experience short-term relief after emptying the bladder. As a woman, you may also notice that this pain is heightened when on your period and occasionally during sex.


You may also notice you’re using the toilet more than normal, often waking up and going during the night too. These urges may be frequent and sometimes lead to incontinence. If you are suffering from incontinence, then it is worth investing in some of our incontinence pads and pants. There are a wide variety of options for both men and women so definitely take a look at our full range of incontinence products.


Although some people will experience interstitial cystitis symptoms frequently, others may only have them sporadically – it will ultimately differ from person to person.

Interstitial cystitis causes

Interstitial cystitis causes are incredibly difficult to determine, and this can be quite frustrating for those suffering with the condition. This also makes diagnosing the condition problematic. Difficulties in the diagnosis is part of why IC is so difficult to treat, however there are several theories as to what may cause the condition:

  • The immune system attacking the bladder
  • Inflammation causing the body to release chemicals leading to interstitial cystitis symptoms
  • Something within the urine causing irritation
  • Sensitivity of the bladder tissue causing urine to irritate it
  • A separate condition causing inflammation leading to irritation of the bladder

Interstitial cystitis diagnosis

As mentioned previously, interstitial cystitis diagnosis is currently non-definitive. When visiting your GP, they may perform a series of tests to rule out any other underlying conditions, before giving you an official diagnosis1. They will be able to give you advice on how to tackle your own interstitial cystitis symptoms and tailor this advice to you specifically.

Is cystitis a UTI?

UTIs are another common issue affecting the urinary tract and bladder and may have some symptoms in common with interstitial cystitis. This can lead to misdiagnosis or confusion.

UTIs and cystitis are not directly related, and the difference between cystitis and a UTI is that a UTI is a bacterial infection, while interstitial cystitis is a non-infectious condition caused by inflammation of the bladder. As mentioned above, the causes for this inflammation are often unclear or difficult to determine.

Medical understanding of UTIs is far clearer than interstitial cystitis, and doctors can diagnose and treat UTIs far more easily. This can help doctors differentiate between the two issues and help to identify a case of cystitis more easily.
Check out our page on UTIs for more information about this specific condition. You can also find more specific info on UTIs in men and UTIs in women.

Interstitial cystitis treatment: living with bladder pain

If you suspect you have interstitial cystitis, it’s important to see your GP to ensure a correct diagnosis. While interstitial cystitis is an incurable condition, there are some moderate lifestyle changes you can make that may help treat your symptoms.

Eating a highly nutritious and well-balanced diet as this can strengthen the immune system.

  • Avoid foods high in sugar and salt
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Wear loose fitting clothing
  • Plan bathroom breaks more proactively

If your symptoms are worsening and negatively impacting your everyday lifestyle, do reach out to your GP.

We hope this helped you feel well-informed about the causes, symptoms and treatment of interstitial cystitis. If you have interstitial cystitis and are concerned about urinary incontinence, then check out our guides on understanding incontinence where we cover the basics.


If you find yourself suffering with an irritable bladder, we also have more information on the symptoms and causes of an overactive bladder. But most importantly, be sure to speak to your GP if your interstitial cystitis symptoms are affecting your day-to-day life.