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Interstitial Cystitis and MS: What’s the Connection?

Posted on May 03, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Joseph V. Campellone, M.D.
Article written by
Anika Brahmbhatt

Members of MyMSTeam often talk about the relationship between MS and bladder issues, including interstitial cystitis (IC).

One member shared, “I’ve been experiencing what I thought were urinary tract infections (UTIs). But even though there is blood in my urine sample and clearly some bacteria, the culture doesn’t grow in the lab. My neurologist thinks it could be something else.”

Another member expressed their frustration at dealing with IC on top of other MS symptoms: “Have you dealt with IC or any other ‘invaders’ that can cause your MS to flare? Like we don’t have enough problems with our own bodies attacking us!”

Interstitial cystitis is one of many potential bladder problems that can occur along with MS. Read on to learn more about IC, its symptoms and treatments, and how it differs from a common UTI.

What Is Interstitial Cystitis?

Interstitial cystitis causes sensations of pain and pressure in the bladder and sometimes the pelvis. It is one of several diseases that fall under the spectrum of painful bladder syndrome. Unfortunately, it’s often a chronic condition.

When you have IC, your body mixes up the signals that prompt the need to urinate. People with IC may feel the urge to urinate often, yet relieving themselves may only produce small quantities of urine. Other symptoms of IC include chronic pelvic pain and pain during sex (dyspareunia). It can be a come-and-go condition. You might experience periods of time with no symptoms … and then they reappear.

Symptoms of interstitial cystitis may seem similar to those of a UTI but there is typically no infection associated with IC. Females are most likely to be affected by IC.

MS and Bladder Problems

Bladder problems are common in people with MS. According to Cleveland Clinic, bladder function impairments are estimated to affect between 78 percent to 90 percent of people with MS over the course of the disease. There are a number of symptoms you may experience if you have MS and bladder issues:

  • Urinary incontinence (uncontrollable release of urine)
  • Urgency to urinate
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Difficulty beginning (or continuing) to urinate

Because interstitial cystitis is a chronic inflammatory disease, urology researchers have looked into the relationships between some autoimmune diseases and IC. Though the symptoms of MS and IC can exacerbate pain and discomfort, no specific links have been identified between the conditions.

Still, MS is linked to general bladder dysfunction. In fact, Mayo Clinic lists bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunction as possible complications of MS. The connection follows simple logic: MS involves demyelination, damage to the coating of nerves, which results in lesions (scarring) on the brain or spinal cord. Such scarring can interrupt the messages between your brain and your bladder.

Untreated bladder issues can worsen other symptoms of MS, like weakness and spasticity. They can also affect your daily activities at work and home. And, if your issues cause embarrassment, your mental health can be affected.

One other connection between the IC and MS is that some drugs used to treat inflammation in multiple sclerosis may have bladder-related side effects. For example, corticosteroids (steroids, like prednisolone) used to treat MS flares, can cause frequent urination and lowered resistance to infection, according to Mayo Clinic.

Managing IC Symptoms

There are a variety of strategies to help you manage symptoms of IC. No one strategy works for everyone, and it may take a few tries to find the one that best suits you. That said, here are some treatments to consider:

  • Physical therapy
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Tricyclic antidepressant medications
  • Antihistamines
  • Nerve stimulation
  • Bladder distention

One DIY treatment that often comes up in conversation about bladder issues is cranberry juice or other cranberry products. In the case of infection, some people believe cranberries to have properties that prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall. However, no evidence supports the idea that cranberry juice works as an effective treatment for interstitial cystitis. Actually, acidic drinks like cranberry juice have been reported to make IC worse.

When To See a Doctor

Always consult with a health care provider if your symptoms are causing you pain or discomfort that worsens your daily quality of life. Make sure to discuss options with your doctor before deciding which treatment to try.

Whether you have an overactive bladder, urinary hesitancy, or pelvic pain, your doctor can help identify the source of the symptoms and recommend the best treatment options for you.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On MyMSTeam, the social network for people with multiple sclerosis, more than 185,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.

Have you been diagnosed with interstitial cystitis and MS? Do you have bladder symptoms you think may be caused by IC? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyMSTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Joseph V. Campellone, M.D. is board-certified in neurology, neuromuscular disease, and electrodiagnostic medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anika Brahmbhatt is an undergraduate student at Boston University, where she is pursuing a dual degree in media science and psychology. Learn more about her here.

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