For many people, living with interstitial cystitis (IC) is a challenge that requires creativity, patience and determination. Because there is no cure for IC or one effective treatment that works for everyone, people with IC discover that they must take an active role in managing their health.
Learn more about IC self-help techniques - check out the IC Reading List.
Many IC patients find that diet plays an important role in helping them control IC symptoms and help prevent IC flares. Others note that what they eat or drink seems to have no effect on how they feel. If you have not tried modifying your diet, it is worth experimenting with different foods and beverages to see if this works for you. Learn more about the IC diet
When you are in discomfort or pain, or tired from nights of disrupted sleep, you may find it difficult to exercise.IC patients with severe symptoms know that even the gentlest movement can make them uncomfortable. Yet many people with IC, even those seriously affected, do make the effort to engage in some form of exercise and report feeling better physically and psychologically as a result. Learn more
about exercise and IC.
Most people with IC recognize that stress plays a part in exacerbating symptoms or bringing on flare-ups. Simply dealing with having IC and the accompanying symptoms can be a source of stress in itself. In addition to using regular exercise to combat stress and relieve pain, IC patients suggest:
- Learning basic relaxation techniques.
- Using meditation tapes and/or visualization.
- Learning self-hypnosis.
- Receiving massages.
- Going to psychotherapy to learn coping skills and stress reduction techniques.
Cigarettes irritate the bladder and may worsen IC symptoms of frequency and urgency. Constant coughing, often a result of long-term smoking, puts pressure on the abdominal area and may heighten pain associated with the pelvic floor muscles. Bottom line, quitting smoking may help reduce the severity of your IC symptoms. A study done in China about the prevalence of IC in women (Neurourol Urodyn. 2008 Jul 31) found that smoking was correlated with IC symptoms. There are lots of online resources about quitting smoking. Check out the American Cancer Society
and the National Cancer Institute
for more information.
For some IC patients, the difficulty they experience engaging in and enjoying sexual activity is one of IC's more debilitating aspects. However, IC does not have to bring an end to your sex life. By taking a creative approach and remaining open to alternatives, many IC patients have found ways to be intimate and loving:
- Think of sex as a range of activities that can include oral-genital sex, massage, mutual masturbation, sharing fantasies, and simply holding and being held.
- Use antispasmodic or pain-reducing medications before sex and lubricants during intercourse to reduce discomfort. Avoid use of a diaphragm because it puts pressure on the bladder. To reduce pain the next day, take a 20-minute sitz bath and place an ice pack on the perineum for 20 minutes after sexual activity.
- Try working with a trained sexual therapist, especially someone with experience with the chronically ill.
Learn more about IC and intimacy
Wearing clothes that are comfortable and non-restrictive can help provide basic relief for IC patients. Create a wardrobe that is both fashionable and serviceable, by:
- Wearing loose clothing such as full skirts and loose pants.
- Avoiding belts and clothing that put pressure on the waist and abdomen.
- Trying thigh-high stockings, cotton leggings, or cotton tights.
- Selecting cotton underwear.
- Wearing low-heeled shoes or slippers to relieve lower back pain. Consider a soft rubbery sole to minimize impact. Use foam inserts in shoes for additional cushioning.
Travel presents many challenges for people with IC, especially those who are severely affected. However, even these patients, with a little determination, can travel and make the adjustments necessary. Prepare for travel carefully. Try these suggestions to make things a little easier:
- For car travel, carry a portable potty or bedpan in the car. Some IC patients have even installed portable toilets in vans. Portable female urinals are also useful.
- For air travel, arrange ahead of time for an aisle seat near the toilets. Sit on pillows to minimize vibrations. Restrict fluids before and during flight.
- Women can wear absorbent pads and men can use a condom catheter while flying or traveling by other modes where access to a restroom is sometimes restricted.
- Try not to travel during peak seasons when things are more hectic and unpredictable.
- Find out in advance the location of restrooms along your route. Some cities have guidebooks that list them. Check your bookstore.
One of the greatest problems for people with IC in the US is the lack of public toilets. In order to gain access to restrooms in restaurants and other public places, you may need to be assertive. These steps may help:
No one strategy for coping with daily life is a cure-all. Techniques for controlling symptoms, such as modifying diet, may be effective at some times and not at others. Even in the most difficult periods, try to remain flexible, be creative, and test a variety of approaches to managing IC. The first step in gaining control over IC is learning how to help and care for yourself.
Revised October 23, 2010