Interstitial Cystitis Symptoms: Bladder Pain (cont.)
No Cure, but Treatments Abound
There are several treatment options that relieve the discomfort of IC, says Moldwin. Terry-Jo Myers takes a drug called Elmiron, which researchers believe repairs microscopic defects that are present in the bladder. Ratner also uses low doses of a narcotic analgesic to manage her pain. Some patients use antihistamines to reduce inflammation in the bladder, and others ultimately elect for surgical bladder reconstruction or even removal (though surgery is considered a last resort, when all other treatments have failed).
If surgery is the most drastic treatment, eating a bland diet might be the least. And such a diet makeover is what ultimately relieved the symptoms of Tula Karras, now a journalist in San Francisco. She was about to graduate from college when her pelvic pain first appeared. "Of course, I thought it was a bladder infection, but the cultures came back negative," she says. "Then I started to have low back pain. I thought it was my kidneys, so I saw a urologist." She submitted to exploratory bladder surgery and, like Myers, once her doctor saw her bladder, he knew what the problem was. "The good news was that it wasn't cancer. The bad news was that I was 23 and had a disorder that no one really knew much about," she says.
Karras' urologist first prescribed a monthly "bladder wash," in which a chemical called dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) was administered into the bladder through a catheter. "The treatment was traumatic," she says, "and it didn't help much." Karras joined a local IC support group and soon discovered that many IC sufferers had had success treating the disorder by eating a bland diet. Even though there's no scientific evidence linking diet to IC, many patients find that eliminating alcohol, citrus, chocolate, coffee, and highly acidic foods, like tomatoes, eases their symptoms. Fortunately, Karras was one of the lucky ones, because within a few months of eating the restricted diet, her symptoms subsided.
Now, at 32, Karras says she's been consistently symptom-free for years. "I notice that when I'm really stressed, or I eat too much of the wrong thing, I start to feel some symptoms, but I just go back to the diet and I'm OK."
Since Ratner, Myers, and Karras were first diagnosed with IC, a few things have changed. Physicians, both gynecologists and urologists, are more aware of the condition and patients are able to get a quicker diagnosis.
This awareness is due in large part to the efforts of Vicki Ratner. Shortly after finding out what was causing her problem, Ratner founded the Interstitial Cystitis Association (ICA), which is now the primary source of information for both patients and physicians about the disorder. Myers has joined forces with Ratner and serves as the primary spokeswoman for the American Foundation of Urologic Diseases (AFUD) public awareness campaign, "On Course for Better Health." "If I'd had a place like the ICA to turn to when I was first diagnosed, it would have made my life so much easier, so much sooner," she says.
Dana Sullivan is a freelance writer based in Reno, Nev.