Updated: Aug 11
Do you already know your unique dietary triggers? Have you ruled out diet as a cause of your interstitial cystitis symptoms? Are you looking for some other cause that could be leading to your symptoms?
I may have an answer for you.
There are other factors that will cause your bladder to flare besides food. We can group these factors into categories: mental, physical, and chemical.
Let’s take a dive into each of these categories.
Stress- Your mental health plays a large role in the overall health of your body. If you are feeling a certain emotion, such as stress, sadness, anger, or excitement your bladder may pay the toll. The stress can last a short or long period of time.
“When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress—the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain….When muscles are taut and tense for long periods of time, this may trigger other reactions of the body and even promote stress-related disorders”. (1)
Sexual activity-Painful intercourse has been reported in up to 90% of women with IC (2). Painful intercourse is caused by tight, strained, and irritated muscles within the pelvic floor(3). In women, penetration is often painful, both in the moment and often for days afterwards. Intercourse can cause long-lasting flares, and fear of intercourse can amplify the problem (3).
Tips for overcoming painful sex?
-Take it slow
-Use lubrication (I recommend coconut oil)
-Stretching and deep breathing
-Take a bath before or afterwards
Menstrual Cycle- Hormones play a role in IC symptoms. When inflammation is coupled with hormone imbalance, our tissues become thinner, drier and more susceptible to inflammation. IC symptoms can become worse during ovulation or the menstrual cycle due to the change in hormone balance.
Delaying urination- I couldn’t find much research to support this, so I’m going to speak out of experience. When I was seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist years ago, she told me I should not hold my urine longer than 4 hours. She told me that if I did this, the toxins in the bladder can cause more damage to the lining than is already there. Like I said, I am not 100% on the science or research behind this, but the idea makes sense. I do notice an increase in burning when I wait too long to go to the bathroom.
Dehydration or overhydration- Dehydration makes the urine more concentrated, which results in a high level of minerals and that can irritate the lining of the bladder. However, on the other end of the spectrum, over-hydrating can cause more frequent trips to the restroom.
Changes in season or weather/allergies- IC experts have noticed that more patients come in with flares when the trees and flowers bloom. Some people report improvement in symptoms when taking an antihistamine. Most patients start with a 10 to 25 milligram (mg) dosage of Atarax, Vistaril or their generic equivalent at bedtime every night for 1 week, and progress to 50 mg every night the second week (4).
Standing or sitting for long periods of time - standing for a long period of time can put stress on the lower back, which can cause the nerves of the bladder to fire. Sitting for a long period of time can also cause issues. There are nerves in the bladder that carry messages from the bladder to the brain to let it know when the bladder is full. These nerves also carry messages from the brain to the bladder, telling muscles either to tighten or release, playing an important role in urinating.
High intensity exercise- Ever notice after an intense workout that your bladder flares? This could be a combination of stress on the muscles and nerves, wearing constrictive workout gear, and potential for dehydration. Wear loose clothing, drink lots of water, and don’t forget to STRETCH!
Forgetting to take prescribed medications- missing a dose or two of your antidepressant can cause the body to react, and while a flare is uncommon, it could occur. There are other medications besides this, such as Make sure to take your medications as prescribed.
Skipping meals- this can cause a few issues for the body. Skipping a meal can cause anxiety, a dip in energy, nutrient deficiencies, irregular digestion, and you could even develop cravings for foods such as those that are bothersome to an IC bladder (5).
Tight Clothing- wearing clothing that is restrictive can put the bladder under stress. Clothes such as jeans, leggings, tights, and spandex/bike shorts can cause constriction of the pelvic area. Try to wear clothes that are comfortable! Let me tell you - cotton underwear is a MUST, and dresses are going to be your best friend.
Detergents and fragrances- Those struggling with conditions such as IC and vulvodynia often find their skin to be extra sensitive. This is very common with people who have IC subtype 5: Central Sensitization. Something as simple as soap, perfume, laundry detergent and other chemicals can cause irritation. To help avoid this irritation, use mild, unscented laundry detergent (and dryer sheet), soap and shaving cream. Also, you may even need to look into an unscented shampoo and conditioner - I recommend Kristin Ess’ fragrance-free line. Fun fact: I had a urogynecologist a few years back that told me that you don’t even need to use soap on your genital area and to just wash with soap! This concept blew my mind, but it did help when I was particularly irritated. For more information on chemicals and IC, check out this link: https://www.ic-network.com/interstitial-cystitis-resources/skin-sensitivities-ic/
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