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Managing Interstitial Cystitis Flares: 21 Tried-and-True Strategies to Find Relief

Updated: Feb 20

Experiencing an interstitial cystitis (IC) flare-up can induce a sense of panic. Yet, it's crucial to take a step back, analyze the triggers behind the flare, and gain insight into effective treatment and prevention strategies. IC flare-ups can result from various factors, including food or chemical intolerance, stress, hormone imbalances, pelvic floor dysfunction, infections, sexual activity, and exercise. By recognizing your triggers, you empower yourself to manage these flare-ups. Remember, once you pinpoint the root causes of your interstitial cystitis (IC) and confront them directly, flare-ups can become a thing of the past. Although IC flares are common, they present challenges. Their unpredictable nature disrupts daily life, lasting from minutes and hours to days or weeks.

Common symptoms of interstitial cystitis (IC) flare

Each person can experience symptoms or a combination of symptoms that are unique to them. This is one of the reasons IC has been historically difficult to diagnose and has often been misdiagnosed. Some of the most common symptoms can include:

  1. Increased urgency to urinate

  2. Frequent urination

  3. Pelvic pain or discomfort

  4. Bladder pain

  5. Burning sensation during urination

  6. Pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis

  7. Pain during sexual intercourse

  8. Increased sensitivity in the bladder area

  9. Painful bowel movements

  10. Feeling of pressure in the bladder

  11. Painful or uncomfortable bladder fullness

  12. Fluctuating pain intensity

  13. Pain in the pelvic area, lower back, and legs

  14. Worsening of pain with certain foods or drinks

  15. Difficulty sleeping due to pain or discomfort

  16. Anxiety or stress related to flare-up symptoms

  17. Blood in the urine (hematuria)

  18. Inflammation of the bladder lining

  19. Reduced bladder capacity

  20. Disruption of daily activities

  21. Impact on social life and relationships

  22. Fatigue and emotional distress due to persistent discomfort

Practical Pointers for Navigating Flares: Discover What Works Best for You

  1. Keep a journal and record how you are thinking and feeling. Let your emotions pour out on paper genuinely and honestly. Removing these from your head and body allows you to voice your pain or feelings. If you need to, say everything out loud. Consider trying the DriveThru: Mindful Journaling app.

  2. Once you have completed your daily writing, do a guided meditation or pray. Identify any untrue thoughts. These can cover such things as “I will always be sick. There is no hope. I will never get better.” Take these negative thoughts captive and replace them with truth, such as, “I am strong. I am a fighter. I am smart. I am loved. My life matters. I am healing. This is a temporary setback. My life has a purpose. I am beautiful. My body is healing. I am getting better.” Repeat these as part of your daily mantra.

  3. Practice correct breathing. When we are stressed or have high levels of fear or anxiety, our breathing becomes shallow, and we tense up, tightening our pelvic floor muscles and decreasing blood flow. Start to notice your breath and where you are holding tension. Take deep cleansing breaths from the stomach and begin to relax. For a guided breathing meditation, or try meditation for anxiety

  4. Go for a 10-minute walk outdoors to release endorphins in the body. These are the feel-good hormones that are healthy and can improve your outlook. Try to get some sun, breathe in the fresh air, and get your body moving to increase your heart rate. Each of these actions can help you feel calm and relaxed.

  5. Give Yoga a try. Yoga is an excellent way to assist your body and mind:

  6. Make a healthy cold pumpkin or berry smoothie, which has proven to help soothe the bladder.

  7. Take some time to call or visit a good friend or cuddle with your pet. Connecting with others releases oxytocin- a hormone that has bonding effects and increases trust and loyalty. It is released whenever we have face-to-face quality time and “tribal” connections within our community. Plus, new research shows that laughing with friends releases feel-good hormones in the brain, relieving pain.

  8. Drink lots of filtered water (half your weight in ounces). Try coconut water which refreshes the body while renewing your electrolytes.

  9. Make a castor oil packet and place it on your stomach. Rest with a heating pad on top of it for 30-45 minutes.

  10. Laugh! Try to find a favorite movie or sitcom that makes you laugh (studies show that watching 15 minutes of a comedy in a group setting increases one’s pain threshold by 10 percent). Laughter is another way that the body creates positive chemical reactions. It releases endorphins giving us a sort of “buzz,” which in turn raises our ability to ignore pain.

  11. Drink a cup of herbal tea to help with an IC flare. There are quite a few blends that are designed to assist in calming your body and bladder: marshmallow root, corn silk, roasted dandelion, holy basil, chamomile with lavender, ginger, licorice root, milk thistle, slippery elm bark, and turmeric. If you are worried about the tea bothering your bladder, simply dip the tea bag once or twice into the hot water and then enjoy the cup tea. You can build slowly from there, allowing your body and immune system time to adjust.

  12. Treat yourself to a magnesium and Epsom salt bath.

  13. Plan a tasty, anti-inflammatory meal that you enjoy. Salmon is one excellent choice, and if you need help finding bladder-friendly recipes, look to any of the safe and delicious recipes in The Complete IC Diet Cookbook.

  14. Try an allergy tablet such as Zyrtec (or you can try a combination of Quercetin with Nettles and bromelain), and if you experience good results, then it’s likely that you are struggling with histamine intolerance. We recommend working with a nutritionist or functional medicine practitioner to identify root causes. Brianne Thornton, MS, RD, can help if you are looking for a nutritionist.

  15. Some have found relief during a flare by drinking a mixture of ¼ teaspoon of baking soda with ½ cup of water.

  16. Various supplements are available that may bring some relief, but always consult with your medical provider before changing or adding anything to your dietary regimen. Some anti-inflammatory supplements include fish oil, oil of oregano, grapefruit seed extract (GSE), pumpkin seed oil (helps with bladder spasms and nocturia), black cumin, curcumin, and ginger. Bladder support supplements include Aloe Vera, astragalus root, D-Mannose (if you are prone to UTIs), kava root, I-arginine, slippery elm, Mega IgG 2000, vitamin D3- K2 (strengthens the pelvic floor), Bladder Ease, pumpkin seed oil, Quercetin with Nettles, and Bromelain (Bromelain increases the absorption of Quercetin plus they enhance each other’s anti-inflammatory actions). Stress-relieving supplements for consideration include I-theanine, magnesium I-threonate, herbal tea, and CBD oil.

  17. You may want to consider making an appointment with a pelvic floor physical therapist. A brain-bladder connection and interstitial cystitis (IC) symptoms may result from nervous system upregulation, pelvic floor dysfunction, and an overactive sympathetic nervous system. PT has proven very effective in treating IC or, at minimum, reducing IC symptoms.

  18. Think about the positives in your life- which can be done with a “gratitude list.” No matter how bad things might currently appear, many things remain to be grateful for. The list serves to help you focus on the good rather than the pain, giving you a renewed sense of hope.

  19. Remind yourself consistently that a flare-up is just a temporary setback. You are strong, heck, you are an IC Warrior, and you will get through this!

  20. Explore the Curable App: Pain is a multidimensional experience involving both the brain and the nervous system. In the realm of chronic illness, these aspects are significantly affected. The encouraging aspect is that we can reprogram our responses, thereby reducing the hypersensitivity of the nervous system. By achieving this, it becomes possible to mitigate the brain's heightened reaction and fear response to pain, ultimately reducing symptoms.

  21. Sleep…and then sleep some more. Sleeping during an interstitial (IC) flare can be challenging, but it is one of the most proactive things you can do to decrease symptoms. Quality sleep is crucial because when you are sleeping, you are healing. If sleep is impossible right now, make it one of your goals. Permit yourself to sleep 10-12 hours a day for the next four weeks while you also work to restore overall balance to the body.

Above all, ensure to consult a doctor, preferably one versed in alternative medicine, who specializes in uncovering and addressing the underlying causes of your interstitial cystitis (IC). This condition arises from a complex interplay of numerous factors, including stress, neuromuscular issues, mastocytosis, pelvic floor dysfunction, dysbiosis in the gut and bladder, gut infections, stealth infections/pathogens, sensitivities to food and chemicals, hormone imbalances, toxicity, heightened nervous system activity, histamine intolerance, neurogenic inflammation, neurological damage, or bladder trauma.

Building a robust support system and gathering the right resources and information is crucial. Remember, healing is entirely attainable, albeit a gradual process demanding patience. You have the potential to reclaim your life, and we're here to provide the assistance you need.

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