Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a chronic condition that can affect your bladder and urinary tract. It’s often referred to as “painful bladder syndrome”—a fairly self-explanatory catch-all covering most of the condition's potential symptoms.
That being said, interstitial cystitis can cause other uncomfortable symptoms, including frequent urination, urgency to urinate, and even pelvic pain. The range of potential symptoms overlapping with other conditions is why millions worldwide suffer from interstitial cystitis, yet many remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
If you suspect that you may have interstitial cystitis, taking a quick self-assessment quiz can help. Identifying the symptoms of interstitial cystitis is a crucial step in seeking appropriate medical attention and treatment.
This "Do I Have Interstitial Cystitis?" quiz is designed to help you better understand your symptoms, as well as whether they align with interstitial cystitis or something else entirely (like endometriosis).
While this quiz can be helpful, it is not a substitute for a professional diagnosis. Consult a healthcare professional to receive an accurate diagnosis regardless of your results.
With that in mind, here are 6 questions you should ask yourself if you believe you might be experiencing interstitial cystitis symptoms.
Q1: Do you experience frequent urination (typically more than 8 times a day)?
The symptoms of interstitial cystitis can vary from person to person, but there are some common signs to look out for.
One of the primary symptoms is a frequent need to urinate, often accompanied by a feeling of urgency. People with interstitial cystitis may find themselves visiting the bathroom far more frequently than normal, even waking up multiple times during the night to urinate.
But what’s considered “far more frequently than normal”? Great question. Of course, the answer depends on age and gender, as well as daily liquid intake, but the average adult urinates between 6 and 7 times a day. So, anything above 8 times per day may be considered frequent.
According to UPenn’s Perelman School of Medicine, severe cases of interstitial cystitis can cause people to feel the need to urinate up to 60 times a day.
Q2: Have you noticed any blood in your urine?
Blood in your urine, also known as hematuria, is almost always a sign of something pressing that you should see your doctor about.
Hematuria has also been loosely linked with interstitial cystitis as a potential symptom of a worsening condition. One study published in the journal Urology found that out of 148 patients with IC, 41% (60 patients) were found to have experienced blood in their urine at least once over an 18-month period.
However, it’s important to note that several other conditions can also cause hematuria. Anything from renal and kidney cysts or stones to more complex conditions like reflux nephrophagy can also cause blood in the urine.
Q3: Do you experience pelvic pain or discomfort in your lower abdomen?
In addition to frequent urination, interstitial cystitis can also cause pelvic pain, discomfort, or pressure in the lower abdomen.
When your bladder fills, you might experience worsening pain until urination, which typically eases once emptied. Interstitial cystitis sufferers don't often have consistent bladder pain, as it can disappear and recur weeks or months later (also known as a symptom flare).
Pain without urgency or frequency can also occur, possibly stemming from spasms in the pelvic floor muscles supporting your bladder, bowel, and uterus.
Q4: Do you feel pelvic pain or lower abdominal pain during sex?
The pain from pelvic floor muscle spasms caused by interstitial cystitis may also get worse during sex. Some people may even experience a burning sensation or pain in the urethra, which can impact the enjoyment of sex.
These symptoms are particularly insidious. They can easily disrupt your daily life, especially your intimacy with a partner, and may lead to feelings of frustration and anxiety that can erode mental health and well-being.
Q5: Do certain foods or beverages worsen your symptoms?
According to the National Institutes of Health, people living with interstitial cystitis often report that specific foods and beverages lead to symptom flare-ups. These may include:
Hot and spicy foods
Citrus juices and drinks or foods
Caffeinated beverages, like coffee and soda
Eliminating certain foods and beverages from your diet and gradually reintroducing them one at a time can help identify if they influence your symptoms.
Q6: Does your bladder pain or pelvic pain get worse under specific conditions?
Interstitial cystitis is a complex condition that could have numerous causes and triggers. So just to stay safe, ask yourself if you experience more bladder pain, pelvic pain, or lower abdominal pain when you:
are stressed out
feel angry or sad
have your menstrual cycle
have a urinary tract infection (UTI)
urinate or hold urine for too long
skip meals or are dehydrated
feel changes in the seasons or weather
wear tight pants or undergarments
go through sudden or bumpy movements, like in a car
take certain medicines, like antidepressants
forget to take certain medicines
use laundry detergents with certain chemicals
are in pool water with certain chemicals
use certain brands of toilet paper
stand for long periods of time
engage in strenuous physical activity that requires your legs (like pulling or lifting)
have a Pap smear
If you’re wondering what some of these triggers have to do with the other ones, you’re not alone. As we've said, IC is a very complex condition with poorly understood causes, which is why it’s so important to check all the boxes.
What to do if you think you have IC (or if you aren't sure)
Self-assessment tools like this quiz are helpful at home, but they should never be construed as medical advice or be used to replace professional medical advice.
Remember, other conditions like endometriosis can have similar symptoms to IC. So, no matter how you answered the questions on this quiz, consult a healthcare specialist for a more comprehensive diagnosis.
Think of your quiz results as a starting point for a conversation with your doctor to embark on a journey that will help you better manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.