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Is Your Nervous System to Blame for your Interstitial Cystitis?

The Nervous System's Role in Interstitial Cystitis

The nervous system plays a pivotal role in regulating bodily functions, including the sensation of pain and the perception of urgency. In individuals with interstitial cystitis (IC), an overactive nervous system can heighten these sensations, exacerbating symptoms and reducing the quality of life. Stress, anxiety, and other emotional factors can contribute to this overactivity, creating a feedback loop that intensifies IC symptoms.

What is an Overactive Nervous System?

An overactive nervous system means that the body's signaling system is in overdrive, reacting more strongly or quickly to stimuli. This heightened response can lead to increased sensations of pain, urgency, frequency, or stress.

Signs of an overactive nervous system show up in different ways. You might notice that your sensitivity to everyday things like light, sound, or touch is dialed up a notch, making the ordinary seem unusually intense. Feeling on edge becomes a constant companion, thanks to the increased stress and anxiety that often tag along with an overactive nervous system. Sleep can become a battleground, too, with insomnia or difficulty staying asleep becoming potential side effects of the nervous system going into hyperdrive.

Interestingly, an overactive nervous system is tied to pelvic floor dysfunction, a condition that messes with the muscles in the pelvic area supporting organs like the bladder, uterus, and rectum. These muscles, crucial for keeping your bowel and bladder movements in check, can get thrown off balance when your nervous system is on high alert.

This overactivity can play out in a few ways. First, your muscles across the board, including those in your shoulders, neck, and pelvic floor, might be wound too tight. This tension adds to pelvic floor dysfunction, bringing on pain, discomfort, and some coordination challenges. On top of that, increased sensitivity in your nervous system can make your pelvic region more susceptible to pain and discomfort. This might show up as pain or spasms in the pelvic floor muscles, making it a bit tricky to relax them as you should.

And it doesn't stop there. The communication between your brain and pelvic floor muscles might get a little mixed up, causing hiccups in your bowel and bladder function. This mix-up can lead to symptoms like sudden urges, frequent bathroom trips, constipation, or difficulties with bowel movements. Stress and anxiety, buddies of an overactive nervous system, can add fuel to the fire. Emotional stress turns up the tension and sensitivity in the pelvic area. Lastly, your perception of pain might get a bit wonky, making pelvic pain feel worse than it should, even when there's no apparent physical damage.

Knowing these connections is key for those dealing with symptoms. It guides a more complete approach to figuring out what's going on and how to tackle it. Turning to healthcare professionals like urologists, gynecologists, or pelvic floor physical therapists is a crucial step for getting an accurate diagnosis and a treatment plan that fits your unique needs.

What Caused Your Nervous System Dysregulation?

An overactive nervous system can result from various factors, and the causes can vary among individuals. Here are some common factors that can contribute to an overactive nervous system:

Chronic Stress:

  • Prolonged exposure to stress can lead to an overactive nervous system. Stress triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which can keep the nervous system heightened.

Anxiety Disorders:

  • Conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can contribute to an overactive nervous system. These conditions involve persistent feelings of anxiety or fear that can affect the nervous system's functioning.


  • Physical or emotional trauma, especially during childhood, can impact the nervous system's development and regulation. Traumatic experiences may lead to an increased sensitivity to stressors.

Genetic Factors:

  • Some individuals may be predisposed to having a more reactive nervous system due to genetic factors. These factors can influence how the nervous system responds to stimuli.

Chronic Illness or Pain:

  • Persistent physical conditions or chronic pain can contribute to an overactive nervous system. The body's response to ongoing discomfort or inflammation may result in heightened sensitivity.

Lack of Sleep:

  • Insufficient or poor-quality sleep can negatively impact the nervous system. Sleep is essential for the body to regulate stress hormones and maintain overall neurological balance.

Excessive Stimulant Intake:

  • Consuming high amounts of stimulants like caffeine or certain medications can stimulate the nervous system and contribute to overactivity.

Environmental Factors:

  • Environmental factors, such as a high-pressure work environment or exposure to constant noise and disruptions, can contribute to chronic stress and an overactive nervous system.

Inflammatory Conditions:

  • Conditions associated with chronic inflammation, such as autoimmune diseases or IC, can affect the nervous system's regulation and contribute to heightened sensitivity.

Hormonal Changes:

  • Fluctuations in hormone levels, such as during menopause or certain menstrual cycle phases, can influence the nervous system's activity.

Eight Strategies to Calm the Nervous System and Rewire the Brain:

Mindful Meditation and Deep Breathing:

Engaging in mindfulness meditation and deep breathing exercises can help regulate the autonomic nervous system, reducing stress and promoting a sense of calm. Incorporating these practices into daily life can positively impact the nervous system's response to stimuli, potentially alleviating IC symptoms.

Neurofeedback Therapy:

Neurofeedback is a non-invasive technique that allows individuals to observe and modify their brainwave patterns. This therapy can be tailored to address specific areas of the brain associated with pain perception and emotional regulation. Over time, neurofeedback may help retrain the brain to respond differently to pain signals.

Regular Exercise:

Physical activity has been shown to have a positive impact on both mental and physical well-being. Exercise releases endorphins, the body's natural mood lifters, and promotes a more balanced nervous system. When it comes to IC, incorporating regular, gentle exercises, such as walking, stretching, or yoga, can contribute to overall symptom management.

Counseling & Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

Engaging in counseling can be instrumental in calming down the nervous system by providing a supportive space to explore and address stressors, emotions, and coping mechanisms. CBT is a therapeutic approach that focuses on identifying and modifying negative thought patterns and behaviors. For individuals with IC, CBT can help address the emotional and psychological aspects of the condition, reducing stress and improving coping mechanisms. This, in turn, can positively influence the nervous system's response to pain signals.

Dietary Changes and Nutrition:

Certain foods and beverages may exacerbate IC symptoms. Experimenting with dietary changes, such as reducing caffeine and acidic foods, can contribute to symptom management. Additionally, incorporating anti-inflammatory foods and supplements under the guidance of a healthcare professional may support overall nervous system health and reduce inflammation.

Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy: Targeted exercises and techniques to relax and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. These specialized interventions, guided by trained physical therapists, aim to address the heightened tension and sensitivity within the pelvic region. By engaging in tailored exercises, individuals can learn to release muscle tension, promoting a more balanced and coordinated pelvic floor function. 

Simultaneously, strengthening exercises contribute to the overall stability of these crucial muscles, aiding in managing symptoms associated with pelvic floor dysfunction. Incorporating pelvic floor physical therapy into the treatment plan underscores the importance of addressing the condition's physical and neurological aspects, fostering a comprehensive and personalized approach to recovery.

Medication: In some cases, medications may be prescribed to manage symptoms such as pain or muscle spasms.


Identifying nervous system dysregulation as a key contributor to interstitial cystitis (IC) is essential for uncovering and addressing the root causes, potentially leading to a reversal of IC symptoms. It's crucial to recognize the intricate interplay of various factors and appreciate that each person's experience may result from a unique combination of these elements. Furthermore, the triggers for an overactive nervous system can differ from one individual to another. If you suspect you have an overactive nervous system, seeking guidance from healthcare professionals becomes imperative. Their expertise is essential for accurately diagnosing and developing an effective management plan tailored to your needs. 

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