Bladder spasms can be challenging for those living with interstitial cystitis (IC), impacting the daily lives of affected individuals. In this article, we'll explore the intricate connection between bladder spasms and interstitial cystitis, with a specific focus on how dietary interventions, particularly the IC diet, can play a pivotal role in symptom management.
You’ll gain practical tips for controlling symptoms through diet intervention, including insights into trigger foods to avoid and bladder-friendly recipes.
What Is a Bladder Spasm?
Bladder spasms are involuntary contractions of the bladder muscles, also sometimes called overactive bladder and urge incontinence (1). It's common to wonder, 'What do bladder spasms feel like?'—especially since it can be tricky to distinguish these sensations from other pelvic discomforts. Individuals experiencing bladder spasms may encounter sensations of pressure, urgency, sharp pain, cramping, and a sudden and urgent need to urinate (with or without urine leakage) (2).
Bladder spasms can occur for various reasons, with interstitial cystitis being one of the underlying causes. Other causes of bladder spasms include urinary tract infections, certain medications, bladder stones, neurogenic bladder, use of a urinary catheter, and an enlarged prostate (2).
Interstitial Cystitis and Its Role in Bladder Spasms
Effectively managing symptoms of interstitial cystitis is a key strategy in reducing the incidence of bladder spasms. Every individual has unique triggers for IC flares, periods when IC symptoms intensity. A comprehensive guide on identifying and managing IC flare triggers can be found in my ultimate guide on interstitial cystitis flares.
Explore this list to identify your potential triggers (2):
Bladder infections (UTI’s)
Exercise (such as riding a bike)
Certain foods and drinks (diet irritants)
By recognizing individual IC flare triggers from the above list and intervening or avoiding them, you can reduce IC symptoms, including the frequency of bladder spasms. Next, we'll focus on dietary interventions and why avoiding foods that irritate the bladder is crucial for controlling IC symptoms.
Interstitial Cystitis Diet: Your Path to Relief
Numerous research studies have confirmed the effectiveness of addressing dietary factors as a frontline method for managing IC symptoms (3, 4, 5). In fact, certain dietary factors are known to exacerbate IC symptoms.
Dietary triggers are unique to each person, and an elimination diet can help identify your list of foods that irritate the bladder, which you would limit or avoid. By temporarily eliminating common bladder irritant foods and drinks, individuals can identify and avoid triggers, creating a personalized approach to symptom control.
While not everyone with IC will be sensitive to dietary factors, a high percentage of IC Warriors report having trigger foods and drinks that can cause a flare in IC symptoms. This is why we consider the elimination diet an essential first step in controlling your IC symptoms, including bladder spasms.
Tips for Implementing an IC Diet
Research has identified the following list of foods that irritate the bladder, potentially increasing IC symptoms (4):
carbonated and alcoholic beverages
The IC Network provides evidence-based dietary lists, including one detailing "the most bothersome foods" and "the least bothersome foods" when following the IC diet (6). They also offer an expanded list called the "ICN Food List," which categorizes foods and drinks as:
Foods Worth Trying Cautiously
Foods to Avoid
Following the above food lists can help reduce IC symptoms if dietary factors trigger your IC flares.
However, my professional recommendation is to try an elimination diet to identify your specific dietary triggers. The temporary elimination of specific trigger foods will ultimately allow you to have the widest variety of foods and drinks in your diet for the long term.
Here’s how it works: there are two phases of an elimination diet. In the first phase, you will eliminate certain foods to reduce symptoms and soothe the bladder. In the second phase, you will strategically reintroduce foods while carefully watching for the appearance of symptoms.
The tricky part is that symptoms may appear when a food is reintroduced in phase two, and for some people, this can take up to a week (per food). As a result, the elimination diet can take 3-6 months in total to complete.
Considerations when attempting the elimination diet:
You should be under the observation of a trained healthcare provider, such as a Registered Dietitian, to ensure you don’t develop any nutrient deficiencies.
Tread carefully if you have dealt with an eating disorder, as this can be a triggering experience.
You may lose weight, as the elimination of certain foods and the duration of this diet can result in reduced calorie intake.
IC Diet Resources: Recipes, E-Cook Books, Menu Plans, & More!
Committing to the IC diet requires key resources, and luckily, I’ve got you covered.
We have a wealth of free recipes right here on the blog, covering various meal categories.
You can also check out my store for additional resources, including:
Symptom Tracker Tools
Rest assured, all my evidence-based resources have been created by me, drawing on my knowledge as a Registered Dietitian and fellow IC warrior.
Preventing Bladder Spasms: Other Interventions to Reduce IC Flares
Limiting the incidence of IC flares is crucial for controlling bladder spasms. In addition to avoiding triggers and following the IC diet, consider incorporating other interventions to help control IC symptoms and reduce flares (7).
Physical Therapy: A time-proven intervention for interstitial cystitis, PT in a non-invasive way to control many of the symptoms. ICHelp.org provides many resources for finding a local physical therapist provider as well as general information about the role of PT in IC.
Acupuncture: A healing modality used for several centuries, this form of Traditional Chinese Medicine has been proven to be effective for pain management, including for interstitial cystitis.
We Feel Your Pain
Navigating the challenges of interstitial cystitis involves a comprehensive approach. As we reflect on the insights shared in this article, it becomes evident that understanding the relationship between bladder spasms and interstitial cystitis, as well as implementing targeted dietary changes, are pivotal steps toward effective symptom control.
Our commitment to supporting your journey doesn't end here. Our Road to Remission program offers a transformative, holistic approach rooted in science and tailored to your unique needs on your path to managing interstitial cystitis.
Your journey is unique, and we are here to provide the support and resources that make a meaningful difference. Here's to empowered living and a future free from the constraints of bladder spasms and interstitial cystitis!
Author: Callie Krajcir, RD, Owner of Callie K Nutrition
1. Pennmedicine.org. (n.d.). https://www.pennmedicine.org/for-patients-and-visitors/patient-information/conditions-treated-a-to-z/urge-incontinence
2. UpToDate. (n.d.). https://www.uptodate.com/contents/bladder-spasm-the-basics?search=bladder+spasm&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1
3. Shorter B, Lesser M, Moldwin RM, Kushner L. Effect of comestibles on symptoms of interstitial cystitis. J Urol. 2007 Jul;178(1):145-52. doi: 10.1016/j.juro.2007.03.020. Epub 2007 May 11. PMID: 17499305.
4. Friedlander JI, Shorter B, Moldwin RM. Diet and its role in interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome (IC/BPS) and comorbid conditions. BJU Int. 2012 Jun;109(11):1584-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1464-410X.2011.10860.x. Epub 2012 Jan 11. PMID: 22233286.
5. Bassaly R, Downes K, Hart S. Dietary consumption triggers in interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome patients. Female Pelvic Med Reconstr Surg. 2011 Jan;17(1):36-9. doi: 10.1097/SPV.0b013e3182044b5c. PMID: 22453670.
6. The IC Food List. Interstitial Cystitis Network . (2018, December 24). https://www.ic-network.com/interstitial-cystitis-diet/the-ic-food-lists/
7. Interstitial cystitis & bladder pain syndrome treatments. Interstitial Cystitis Network . (2023, July 4). https://www.ic-network.com/interstitial-cystitis-treatments/