Understanding and treating bladder pain syndrome

Bladder pain syndrome (BPS), clinically known as interstitial cystitis (IC), is a chronic bladder condition that causes pain and pressure.

Bladder pain syndrome (BPS), clinically known as interstitial cystitis (IC), is a chronic bladder condition that causes pain and pressure. Those who have it experience symptoms that mimic those of a lower urinary tract infection. Most of the symptoms will continue for six weeks or more, causing great discomfort.

Sarah M. Kane, M.D., urogynecologist at Norton Women’s Specialists – Urogynecology, explains that for some the symptoms may come and go, but for others they don’t go away.

“The pain associated with it has been described as pressure in the bladder that gets worse as the bladder fills,” Dr. Kane said. “Pain is common in other areas such as the urethra, lower abdomen, lower back or the pelvic area.”

An overview of how the urinary system works helps explain the condition. The bladder and kidneys are part of the urinary system. Together they make, store and pass urine. When the bladder is empty it relaxes. As the bladder begins to fill, nerves signal the brain, alerting you to go to the restroom.

“If your bladder is working normally, you can put off urination for some time,” Dr. Kane said. “Then once you are ready to pass urine, the brain sends a signal to the bladder and muscles squeeze, forcing the urine out through the urethra.”

For women with IC/BPS, the pain and pressure can ignite at any time during that process.

“The symptoms of IC/BPS vary from patient to patient,” said Ali Azadi, M.D., urogynecologist with Norton Women’s Specialists – Urogynecology. “In addition to pain, women may encounter urgency to urinate and experience frequency issues.”

Drs. Kane and Azadi agree that estimating the number of women who have IC/BPS is difficult because there is no standard technique to diagnose the condition. IC/BPS can impact a person’s day-to-day activities, making it hard to get through the day. Fortunately, treatment options are available.

“For many women, we start with modifying lifestyle habits, such as avoiding certain foods and drinks in their daily diet, quitting smoking and trying to exercise,” Dr. Azadi said. “It is also key to do a complete patient exam to ensure other factors are not contributing to or complicating the condition.”


Additional treatment options include prescription medication, injections and surgery. To learn more about IC/BPS, join Drs. Kane and Azadi for “Making Sense of Interstitial Cystitis and Pelvic Pain,” a free seminar to be held Monday, Sept. 21, 6 – 7:30 p.m., in the Marshall Women’s Health & Education Center on the Norton Healthcare – St. Matthews campus. For more information or to register, call (502) 629-1234.


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