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Root Causes of Interstitial Cystitis Flares

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

Ever wonder what is actually causing your Interstitial Cystitis flare?

Are you living in constant fear/worry that you will eat something or do something that will cause your symptoms to flare?

First, let’s review what a bladder flare is. It is considered a “period of extreme pain with increased urinary frequency/urgency across several days or weeks”, or simply, a “sudden increased intensity of symptoms.

There are many theories as to what causes bladder flares. Here are the four leading theories as to why what you eat might bother your IC:

  • Irritation of the bladder wall

  • Inflamed nerves

  • Provoked increased nerve sensitivity

  • Organ cross talk

Let’s break each of these theories down:

The first theory is related to the bladder wall. Basically, a layer of the wall is damaged and thus, substances found in the urine can seep into the very sensitive layers of tissue that make up the bladder wall. Irritation will occur when urine that contains these substances make contact with the damaged bladder wall. This irritation is what causes you to feel pain and discomfort after eating potentially bothersome foods and beverages.

Our second theory proposes that IC may relate to the nervous system. The idea here is that substances in certain foods and beverages may excite the very sensitive nerve endings that are in the bladder.

It appears that people with IC have higher levels of pain receptors that are super sensitive to certain compounds found in potentially bothersome foods. Let’s use peppers for example - they contain a substance called capsaicin (the more it has the hotter the pepper). Peppers used in Spanish or Thai dishes contain higher amounts of capsaicin and therefore may cause a flare, whereas bell peppers contain a small amount of capsaicin and are typically tolerated by IC sufferers.

For our fourth theory, researchers propose that bladder pain relates to the intestines and the fact that they are in the same area of our abdomen as the bladder. Scientists use a “pepperoni pizza” hypothesis to explain the process of this theory. Think about if you eat a slice of pepperoni pizza. That pizza is going to hit the stomach nerves first, and since pepperoni is a potentially bothersome food for IC bladders, the stomach nerves will send pain signals that extend through to the bladder.

There are a couple other potential causes of flares that I want to discuss.

Do you ever notice that during or after a stressful moment or event that your bladder flares? Sometimes IC sufferers end up “holding” their stress in their bladders without realizing it. Try to pay more attention to this and see if this is something that you do. If your body does this, you can talk to a health professional about ways to manage your stress and not just "hold" it in one area.

Another potential cause of a flare is your menstrual cycle. Ladies, ever wonder why you flare up right before or during your menstrual cycle? Your bladder wall and urethra are extremely responsive to changes in hormones. Basically, your bladder tissue is more sensitive during this time. Also, if you use tampons, this can become a physical irritant. Tampons can also be scented, which could trigger an allergic reaction in some. My advice: try 100% unscented cotton or pads during your cycle.

The last potential trigger for a flare I want to shine light on is a new medication or procedure. Ladies- do you ever go to the gynecologist for an exam and they stick that cold metal thing in your lady part? Do you ever go home with bladder pain after an invasive procedure like this? Have you ever tried a new medication or supplement and noticed you have increased IC symptoms the next day? Both of these scenarios could be contributing to your IC pain and symptoms.

Now that you've read about the various theories on what causes IC flares, I challenge you to pay more attention. Grab yourself a journal or use the Notes app in your iPhone to track your IC symptoms. This is also an extremely vital action you need to take during an Elimination diet.

Looking for more information and guidance on IC and how to reach remission? Want to conduct an Elimination diet but have no clue how to do it? Check out my Road To Remission program, where I'll help you investigate your diet triggers & minimize your symptoms in 3 months!


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