Women's Pelvic Health and Reconstructive Surgery

Main Content

Painful Bladder Syndrome (Interstitial cystitis)

Interstitial cystitis (IC) or painful bladder syndrome (PBS) is a chronic condition that causes discomfort or pain of the bladder, urethra, and/or general pelvic area.

About painful bladder syndrome

The most common symptoms of painful bladder syndrome are:

  • Painful urination
  • Urinary frequency
  • Urinary urgency
  • Pain in or around the bladder

Many women are initially diagnosed with urinary tract infections, but prescribed antibiotics offer only minimal, short-term relief. Symptoms may also be associated with certain foods or beverages and/or other medical conditions.

Conditions commonly associated with painful bladder syndrome include:

  • Painful intercourse (dyspareunia)
  • Vulvar or vaginal pain
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia

The physicians and staff at University Women's Care are a team of caring professionals. Our providers have the expertise to treat even the most complex urogynecologic problems. We provide practiced, thoughtful care and work with patients to find the most appropriate diagnosis and treatment to meet each woman's unique personal needs.

Diagnosing painful bladder syndrome

There are no standard symptoms or tests for painful bladder syndrome, so various methods are used to rule out other conditions.

Tests used to determine a diagnosis of painful bladder syndrome:

  • Medical history and physical examination, including a pelvic exam 
  • Questionnaires developed to aid in the diagnosis of painful bladder syndrome
  • Voiding diary
  • Urine testing - Urinalysis and urine culture, to rule out infection
  • Cystoscopy - A small camera is inserted into the bladder to look for things associated with this or other conditions

Treating painful bladder syndrome

Our physicians work with patients to develop the most appropriate treatment plan for their individual needs. Multiple treatment options are often used at the same time.

Treatments we offer include:

  • Dietary and behavioral changes
    Many common foods and beverages such as caffeine, soda, citrus, and spicy foods can cause an increase or flare in bladder symptoms. Dietary changes can help identify and eliminate specific food triggers.
  • Medications
    Various oral medications can be used to treat nerve pain, decrease bladder inflammation, and/or help seal the lining of the bladder.
  • Bladder instillations
    Also called a bladder wash or bath, bladder instillations put a mixture of various medications (such as pain relievers and steroids) into the bladder in effort to provide more immediate symptom relief. Instillations can be done on a schedule or as needed.
  • Pelvic floor physical therapy
    Pelvic floor physical therapy is often used to treat many symptoms of painful bladder syndrome. A woman's pelvic floor muscles may develop spasms or trigger points that can cause pelvic pain, painful intercourse, or vulvar pain. Pelvic floor physical therapy for these areas can be extremely helpful in easing pain and bladder symptoms.
  • Cystoscopy with hydrodistention (CHD)
    This procedure is often described as “stretching the bladder.” Done under local or general anesthesia, this procedure can provide relief by “resetting” bladder pain signals.
  • Botox® prescription medicine
    While not FDA approved specifically for treating IC, botulinum toxin type A (Botox) can be used in a variety of bladder conditions. For this treatment, Botox is injected into the bladder via cystoscopy which is thought to decrease bladder spasm, increase bladder capacity, and decrease pain signals.
  • Neuromodulation (Interstim® neurostimulation dystem)
    This implantable “pacemaker” is FDA approved for overactive bladder symptoms. Some patients have reported improvement with overactive bladder as well as with pain.

Request an appointment

Our providers have the expertise to treat even the most complex urogynecologic problems with practiced, thoughtful care for the needs of our patients. The pelvic health program at UMMC sees patients by physician-referral and self-referral.

Health care professionals

To refer a patient to the University Women's Care pelvic health program: