What is Interstitial Cystitis and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction and how are they related?
Interstitial Cystitis (aka IC) is a bladder condition that is characterized by chronic pelvic pain, a frequent and urgent need to urinate (some people can urinate up to 60 times a day), at times there is pain or discomfort when the bladder fills and there is usually some relief after urinating, and pain during or after intercourse. These symptoms can sometimes be constant or happen in “flares”, where we get some periods of relief but the pain will creep up on us when we least expect it. Symptoms mimic classic urinary tract infection (UTI) pain but there is no sign of bacteria or infection and antibiotics do not alleviate the pain.
In IC patients, Pelvic Floor Dysfunction is usually present and can actually exaggerate the pain during a flare. PFD is the presence of too much pelvic floor tension (Tight, Hypertonic), or a drop in pelvic floor tension (Loose, Hypotonic) which contributes to incontinence.
Because IC & PFD are chronic pain conditions, and they do not have a cure. Successful treatment is typically limited to reducing the symptoms of frequency, urgency, and pain.
I suffer from IC & PFD flares and have been on the search for ways to reduce my pain levels and have noticed that this journey is full of trial and error. What works for one may not work for someones else. I still struggle but I am finding better ways to cope with the pain.
Below are my top 8 natural tips for helping you get through your next flare:
1. HOT/COLD THERAPY
Hot: Works well for muscle and bladder spasms. Use a heating pad or hot water bottle on your lower abdomen. This helps relax tight muscles and ease spasms. If you have two heating pads, you can use one on your lower back/butt as well as over your abdomen. Another tip is to run a warm bath and sit in the tub for 20 min. If you have learned meditation, this is the perfect time to meditate! ✨
Cold: This is important during a pelvic floor flare that has urethral burning, to reduce inflammation and to numb the area. Use an ice pack on your lady bits (with a layer of protection) and this will provide instant relief. Yes, instant!
My personal go-to:
Heat on my lower back/ butt and ice on my lady bits.
2. PHYSICAL THERAPY
Many IC patients with PFD usually have a very tight pelvic floor. A Physical Therapist can assess you, let you know which muscles are effected and can release those tight muscles using tigger points, also known as myofascial release.
Women think by doing Kegels, you will be able to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and will get them to start functioning correctly. This is actually the opposite for women with IC/PFD.They need to learn how to relax their muscles and they can learn how to successfully do that by working with a certified pelvic floor Physiotherapist. If you happen to live in Ontario, you can find a list of Pelvic Floor Physiotherapists here.
Elimination of acidic foods in your diet such as coffee (anything with caffeine), pop, alcohol, cranberry or other acidic fruit and juices, tomatoes, chocolate, and lemons. These will irritate your bladder and cause your flare to last longer. Macy IC sufferers, including myself, have eliminated those items for good in order to reduce the chance of bladder irritation. However, there is a product called Prelief that you can take before you eat a food that can potentially prevent acidic foods from irritating the bladder.
You can learn more about diet and nutrition here.
4. HORMONE REGULATION
There has been a lot of talk on social forums about when their IC pain strikes and many women notice it has a connection to their monthly cycle. Some women feel worse around ovulation, and others feel worse after ovulation, all the way up to menstruation.
Working with your doctor or naturopath to find ways to balance your hormones can help.
5. WATER, WATER, WATER
It is important to drink a minimum of 6-8 glasses of water a day to stay hydrated, which helps decrease constipation (PFD’s worst nightmare) and diluting urine, keeping it from becoming too acidic. However, if the IC patient has frequency as their #1 issue, drinking too much water will make them have to urinate more often which can cause more pain.
During a flare, drink a glass of water mixed with one teaspoon of baking soda to help to reduce burning sensations. Consult your doctor first before trying if you have high blood pressure.
6. STRESS REDUCTION
I know it is easier said than done, especially when you’re in pain, but stress can trigger inflammation in the body and learning ways to decrease the amount of stress your body reacts to can help decrease the inflammation.
Some ways to relax are:
- Meditation: I use an app called Insight Timer. It has free guided meditations, as well as relaxing music and sounds to whisk you off into zen mode.
- Breathing techniques: This takes some practice but once you learn how to use your breathe to ease pain, it can help you through your next flare.
- Anything that makes you happy: It would be putting on your favourite TV show, or playing with your pet, or even a hobby that keeps you busy (needle point, painting etc.) can help ease your pain.
7. MARSHMALLOW ROOT
Marshmallow Root is thought to coat the bladder wall and protect IC patients by allowing the bladder wall to heal.
It can be taken in capsule form or consumed as a tea.
8. ALOE VERA CAPSULES
Aloe Vera capsules have shown to effectively reduce urinary frequency, burning, and pain that are a part of many bladder disorders, but especially interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome (IC/PBS). Desert Harvest freeze dried Aloe Vera capsules are known to have the best customer reviews on IC forums. I am unable to get it in Canada, so I use NOW Aloe Vera Gels.