Interstitial Cystitis Flare Management: An Individualized Approach
Updated: Aug 11, 2022
Do you ever go from your bladder feeling happy & healthy to it being extremely angry and painful? Or do you go to bed feeling fine and waking up in the middle of the night to find yourself unable to leave the toilet due to a crazy urge to pee?
We all know from firsthand experience that with Interstitial Cystitis comes those painful, inconvenient flares that can last from minutes to days to even weeks.
If you haven’t read my blog post about root causes of flares, read it here and if you want to check out potential triggers that aren’t related to food or beverages, check out this post.
In short, the cause of a flare can either be from your diet or from a non-diet trigger. Dietary triggers may include drinking a beverage with caffeine or citric acid, or eating a common bothersome food like citrus or food that contains MSG. You can find a list of the most common bothersome foods here.
Non-diet triggers may include stress, hormone imbalances, trauma, or strenuous activity, to name a few. My personal top 3 triggers are stress, dehydration, and wearing clothes I’m not comfortable in.
An IC flare looks different for everyone. You may experience an increase in frequency, like you can’t leave the toilet for more than 10 seconds before feeling that urge to go when you know only a few drops will come out. You could also experience pelvic pain or cramping. For me, I experience burning before, during, and after urinating with accompanying bladder spasms.
I want you to pause and take a second to think about what your IC flares look like and reflect on what triggers them and how you typically deal with them.
Whatever an IC flare looks like for you, you either know how to calm it down and are looking for additional ideas, or you don’t, and are looking for guidance to dealing with these inevitable flares.
Let’s break down the ways to manage a flare into two realms: mental and physical.
Stress management - Flares can directly be related to stress in your life. Whether it be a stressful or traumatic event that occurred, nerves for an upcoming trip, or a disagreement with a friend, this stress can impact your body, and more importantly, your bladder. Try the following techniques to alleviate stress:
Journal - keep a journal where you can write down everything you’re feeling. Putting your feelings onto paper may help you identify patterns and how you can remedy this stress. Try it for 30 days and see if it helps. If you don’t feel it helps, try something else.
Positive outlook - once you have written down your feelings into your journal, identify which thoughts are “negative” and turn them into a “positive”. Remember, a flare is only temporary. Having a positive outlook, or at least trying to adjust your mindset, can help reduce stress on your body.
Meditation/breathing - one of the most underrated things you can do for stress. Try meditating, or download an app on your phone that can help guide you through deep breathing exercises. I like Relax Melodies, but there are many others out there. If you are religious, utilize prayer if you feel that will help.
Watch your favorite TV show - Have a good laugh. When I’m having a flare or feeling down, I’ll put on a show like New Girl or Schitt's Creek to give me a good laugh. After all, they don’t say laughter is the best medicine for nothing!
Talk with a friend- having a conversation with another person can help alleviate stress. Discuss your feelings and then move on to try to get your mind off of your flare. Try to keep the conversation as positive as possible, and if laughter is involved, that will only help the situation.
Ice/heat- whichever method works for you, do it. I recently found a perineal ice pack that helps me alleviate burning when I experience a flare. Cold water bottles/cans do the trick when you are out and feeling desperate for relief
Hydrate- providing your body with water, tea, or other bladder-friendly liquids will help soothe the bladder. Try herbal teas such as marshmallow root, roasted chamomile, ginger, slippery elm, corn silk, milk thistle, or turmeric - if you have issues drinking specific teas on this list, try dipping the teabag in 2-3 times quickly, and increase each day. Also, coconut water is a tasty, bladder friendly alternative to regular water! Pro tip: many IC sufferers have reported improvement in symptoms when drinking a mixture of 1/4 tsp baking soda with 1/2 cup water.
Utilize medications- If your doctor prescribed you a medication to use "just in case" or "as needed", USE IT! I like to utilize Pyridium as needed, but there are other types of pain medications that can be prescribed by docs. This is the time to use it.
Go outside- if you can go for a walk, do it. If you can’t, take a chair outside and sit there. Getting outside can cause your body to release endorphins, or the feel good hormone. You’ll also get some vitamin D from the sun, which many people are deficient in. Getting your heart rate up during a walk can increase your heart rate, which is beneficial for the body.
Stretch- during a flare, your pelvic floor and other surrounding muscles can be tense. Light stretching may help alleviate pain by stretching these muscles out and decreasing overall tension in the body. Try the simple Happy Baby pose, or other simple stretches- you do not want to do strenuous stretching as this will just irritate the bladder more. Pro tip: if it’s a nice day, try stretching outside!
Take a bath- a warm bath may help relax the pelvic floor muscles and give you an overall relaxing sensation.
Eat an anti-inflammatory meal- Try to get a source of protein, such as chicken, turkey or fish and pair with a non-starchy vegetable such as broccoli or carrots and a starch such as white/brown rice or pasta. Or, try this honey garlic salmon recipe.
I hope after reading this you feel equipped with the tools to manage these bothersome flares. The next step is to work on preventing them. If you need guidance to help prevent future flares, check out my Intro To IC Mini-Course or Road To Remission program.