What is Interstitial Cystitis and how is Painful Bladder syndrome different?

Interstitial Cystitis and Painful Bladder Syndrome are two individual conditions with particularly similar symptoms. The diagnosis is often intertwined because specific tests tell the difference; but for the purpose of your rights and the similarities; the same applies for both as it depends on the individual's symptoms.

Both conditions affect both Men and Women of varying ages. Whilst these conditions are considered rare, there are subtypes catagorized by a root cause. These root causes are the things we currently don't get answers for without significant intervention on our health; which we have to chase for ourselves unfortunately. These conditions were previously significantly diagnosed in predominantly women over 30, which is in fact in correlation to the average amount of time taken to diagnose the condition historically. The facts of this condition are becoming ever clearer with increased awareness.

Within medical and scientific investigation, a diagnosis of Interstitial Cystitis is confirmed with evidence of blisters or hunner's lesions on the inside of the bladder lining (this confirms the inability to repair the bladder wall naturally which has been associated with mast cell production in the past, indicating a potential underlying autoimmune link). Painful bladder syndrome is a diagnosis given without having or finding that damage to the internal bladder wall. IC and PBS have been known to be misdiagnosed as each other for various reasons but primarily the similarity of symptoms and under education. This differentiation can be made by carrying out a cystoscopy, which is often used with bladder distension and gives this answer; which can assist you towards finding your route cause.

​Interstitial Cystitis is a condition in which your internal bladder wall is damaged through to the nerves in the lining. In normally functioning bladders, the cells can efficiently be re-built, enabling normal repair and function throughout use and age. However sufferers of Interstitial Cystitis show signs of a mast cell productive issue, by which the immune system is unable to repair the lining. This could be due to a root cause or subtype (discussed here on the IC Network). The acidity of urine having contact with the blisters and lacerations then leads to inflammation and nerve pain, where the immune system is trying to carry out the repairs and possibly falsly attacking itself through the protective GAG layer of lining in the bladder. If you have IC, an interesting fact for you is that the white cells passing in your urine at times, could be a sign of the internal bladder protective layer coming away. No, that wasn’t really an interesting fact so much as a gross one, but I will leave it there. 

Causes of Interstitial Cystitis are not known for certain but there have been investigations into aspects and subtypes of IC throughout the years and we will ensure there are more in the future. It is thought potentially that there may be a hereditary predisposition in mast cell production, which alongside a combination of triggers, can cause this condition to develop; triggers such as extreme stress, other physical or mental illness or trauma both emotionally and physically. There is also some speculation between medical studies about the possibility of bladder trauma, such as an infection, then becoming an underlying, adaptable and embedded infection within the bladder wall, that has the power to limit the growth and repair of cells within the bladder and mimic the bodies natural cells to hide from the immune system (which means the immune system attacks itself mistakenly). This is an interesting theory that still requires further investigation, but all studies can have potential to assist in cures.

During the diagnosis process, you are often fighting to feel heard and once diagnosed, deeper referrals to look into a solution are not pushed for by many medical professional; but prescriptions are usually offered. There are various medications, not to cure IC but to alleviate the symptoms. If you aren't one to deal with prescription side effects, you can try natural remedies, supplements and a variety of things. Remission is possible for many IC sufferers; please remember that everyone's journey is different, we are all at a variety of stages. What works for you may not necessarily work for others. Remission can take a number of years, takes trial and error, a mixture and balance between all of the compondents that we may be able to find if we have the right circumstances to seek; but they are not the same for us all.

Regardless of where we currently are, there are some incredible and talented people working towards raising awareness on a daily basis, which brings hope to the future of investigations.

With regards to symptoms, we do not all feel the same; there are a variety of symptoms and severity but generally a combination of some or all of the below symptoms of IC:

  • Frequent Urination

  • Incontinence

  • Urgency 

  • Nocturia (Needing a loo throughout the night)

  • Pelvic and Lower Abdomen Pain 

  • Urethral and Perennial Pain

  • Tiredness and Fatigue

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

  • Immune difficulties (Prone to catching viral or bacterial illnesses)

  • Depression and Anxiety (Associated with living in chronic pain/ difficulty)

  • Painful Intercourse

  • Continuous or Intermittent 'flare ups' (Times of intensified symptoms)

To find information on 'Flare Ups', please click here. The following are the most common Flare up Triggers amongst us all:

  • Diet - Acidity primarily

  • Stress - Triggers autoimmune responses

  • Hormones - Changes balance

  • Sex - Can cause pain, discomfort, imbalance

  • Irritation to Urethra or Pelvis - I.e restrictive clothing, non-cotton underwear, seating and laying positions

  • Unbalanced PH - bathing, swimming, products not for sensitive care

  • Travelling - The body puts a restriction and jolting motion on comfort whilst travelling, this can irritate the urethra, pelvic floor and bladder.

Interstitial Cystitis is commonly found in people who have indications of other autoimmune conditions and due to the autoimmune nature of Interstitial Cystitis, sufferers become more prone too having developed the associated conditions:

. You can find more information on related conditions here.


IC or Bacterial Cystitis / BV

Interstitial Cystitis

  • Long Term Frequency 

  • Clear Urine

  • No primary Bacteria found Urine

  • Painful Pelvis, Urethra and localised pain

  • More severe pain with a full bladder

  • Intense pain with dehydration

  • Recurring or Continuous symptoms

Bacterial Cystitis

  • Frequency during attacks

  • Cloudy, smelly urine

  • Bacteria can be found in urinalysis

  • Antibiotics can resolve symptoms

  • No effect from bladder filling and emptying

  • Symptoms are not long-lasting