Misunderstood Bladder Disease Symptoms May Be Linked to Diet

Q. I?ve been diagnosed with interstitial cystitis and have noticed that certain foods seem to make my bladder pain worse. What should I avoid?

A. Many people with interstitial cystitis (IC) find that acidic foods and beverages cause a flare-up of symptoms, which include increased frequency and urgency of urination, accompanied by burning.

IC is a chronic, inflammatory condition of the bladder characterized by pinpoint hemorrhages (small points of bleeding) and, in some cases, small ulcerations of the bladder wall. Unlike common cystitis (your run-of-the-mill urinary tract infection), IC is not caused by bacteria and therefore doesn’t respond to antibiotics.

Misunderstood and Misdiagnosed. IC’s cause is unknown. It’s diagnosed by first ruling out other diseases that share similar symptoms, such as bladder infection, bladder cancer, kidney stones and endometriosis, followed by a surgical procedure to check for inflammation and hemorrhages.

IC was long believed to affect mostly older women. However, in reality, it affects people of all ages, and some men previously diagnosed with prostatitis are now being diagnosed with IC. Recent data suggest there may be 700,000 or more cases in the U.S., on a par with the incidence of Parkinson’s disease.

Relief From Irritating Foods. Offending foods vary, but certain foods seem to bring on symptoms in many IC sufferers: coffee (regular and decaf), tea (black, green and herbal), most fruit juices, carbonated beverages, tomatoes and tomato products, citrus fruits and alcohol. Even artificial sweeteners and citric acid, a common preservative, have been implicated in anecdotal reports from sufferers, according to Vicki Ratner, M.D., an IC sufferer and founder of the Interstitial Cystitis Association of America. She cautions, however, that before you eliminate all these foods, be aware that some IC sufferers can eat and drink almost anything without a problem. The key is to keep a food diary and determine which foods bother you the most, through trial and error.

Many people with IC find relief from Prelief, an over-the-counter supplement designed to buffer the acid in foods. That may allow sufferers to eat foods they otherwise couldn’t, like tomato sauce. Reduced-acid orange juice may also help. Other treatment options for IC include antispasmodic medication, pain relievers and biofeedback, depending on individual symptoms.

For more information, call the Interstitial Cystitis Association at (800) HELP-ICA or visit www.ichelp.org.

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