At this time there is no cure for IC. Nor is there a single treatment that works effectively in all people who have the disease. Symptoms vary from individual to individual and may appear or disappear at random. Because scientists do not yet know what causes the disorder, treatment is aimed mainly at relieving symptoms.
One of the more recent and effective treatments for IC is an oral drug known as Elmiron® (pentosan polysulfate sodium). This medication seems to repair damage to the bladder wall’s defense barrier. The drug is effective at relieving symptoms in 30 percent of people who take it. Side effects of Elmiron® may include upset stomach, diarrhea and hair loss, which disappear when the medication is discontinued.
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Pain medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen are helpful in treating the discomfort of IC. Sometimes antidepressants and antihistamines are prescribed to ease the chronic pain and psychological stress associated with IC. If pain is quite severe, narcotic drugs may be necessary to control symptoms.
Another treatment that can be effective is a bladder installation, or bladder wash. A solution of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is passed into the bladder, where it is held for 15 minutes before being expelled. The DMSO washes are given regularly every one or two weeks for six to eight weeks. They are thought to be effective because they reach the bladder tissue more directly, reducing inflammation and pain.
If all treatment methods have failed and your pain is severe, surgery may be considered. Various procedures, including removing bladder ulcers with a laser, enlarging the bladder with a piece of bowel or removing the bladder altogether, may help improve symptoms. Unfortunately, the results of these types of surgery can be unpredictable and many people continue to have symptoms even after the surgery.
Several alternative treatments have proven to ease the chronic pain of IC. Trans-cutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulators (TENS) use mild electrical pulses to relieve daily discomfort and have produced good results for a small percentage of IC sufferers. The electrical pulses generated by TENS may work by increasing blood flow to the bladder, strengthening the pelvic muscles that control the bladder or triggering substances that block pain. Self-help techniques such as exercise, bladder retraining, biofeedback and stress reduction may reduce the severity and frequency of symptom flare-ups. Many people with IC have achieved success in controlling their symptoms with a program of diet modification.