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  • Pain with bladder filling; urinary urgency and frequency.

  • Submucosal petechiae or ulcers on cystoscopic examination.

  • Diagnosis of exclusion.


Interstitial cystitis (painful bladder syndrome) is characterized by pain with bladder filling that is relieved by emptying and is often associated with urgency and frequency with a dramatic exaggeration of normal sensations. This is a diagnosis of exclusion, and patients must have a negative urine culture and cytology and no other obvious cause such as radiation cystitis, chemical cystitis (cyclophosphamide), vaginitis, urethral diverticulum, or genital herpes. Up to 40% of patients referred to urologists for interstitial cystitis may actually be found to have a different diagnosis after careful evaluation. What was once considered a bladder disorder is now considered a chronic pain syndrome.

Population-based studies have demonstrated a prevalence of between 18 and 40 per 100,000 people. Both sexes are involved, but most patients are women, with a mean age of 40 years at onset. Patients with interstitial cystitis are more likely to report bladder problems in childhood, especially women. Up to 50% of patients may experience spontaneous remission of symptoms, with a mean duration of 8 months without treatment.

The etiology of interstitial cystitis is unknown, and it is most likely not a single disease but rather several diseases with similar symptoms. Associated diagnoses include severe allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, or inflammatory bowel disease. Theories regarding the cause of interstitial cystitis include increased epithelial permeability, neurogenic causes (sensory nervous system abnormalities), and autoimmunity.


A. Symptoms and Signs

Pain, pressure, or discomfort with bladder filling that is relieved with urination, and urgency, frequency, and nocturia are the most common symptoms. Patients should be asked about exposure to pelvic radiation or treatment with cyclophosphamide. Examination should exclude genital herpes, vaginitis, or a urethral diverticulum.

B. Laboratory Findings

Urinalysis, urine culture, and urinary cytology are obtained to examine for infectious causes and bladder malignancy; in interstitial cystitis, they are all normal. Urodynamic testing can be done to assess bladder sensation and compliance and to exclude detrusor instability.

C. Cystoscopy

Cystoscopy may reveal glomerulations (submucosal hemorrhage) with hydrodistention of the bladder. Total bladder capacity should be determined. Biopsy of any suspicious lesions should be performed to exclude other causes such as carcinoma, eosinophilic cystitis, and tuberculous cystitis. The presence of submucosal mast cells is not needed to make the diagnosis of interstitial cystitis.


Exposures to radiation or cyclophosphamide are discovered by the history. Bacterial cystitis, genital herpes, or vaginitis can be excluded by urinalysis, culture, and physical examination. A urethral diverticulum may be suspected if palpation of the urethra demonstrates an indurated mass that results in the expression of pus from the ...

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