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Interstitial cystitis (IC) can be a painful and difficult illness. Often it takes years for a woman and her doctor to identify the condition and find treatments that effectively control her symptoms. Although none of the ideas in this section will cure your IC, they may help you reduce your symptoms and feel more in control of your illness.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by your circumstances, ask your doctor about counselling or support groups in your area. The Interstitial Cystitis Network (ICN) may also be able to direct you to a support group in your area. Your emotional well-being is just as important as your physical care.

Part of caring for yourself emotionally is caring for your personal relationships. Of course, pain and bladder problems can make you feel irritable. Try to be open with your family and friends about what you are feeling. You may feel awkward about talking about bladder problems or it may seem like your family and friends really don't want to hear about them! They may not want all the intimate details, but if they care about you, they should care that you are having pain or feeling overwhelmed.

It may also be useful to turn to others who have IC for support. Because IC can sometimes be a barrier in an intimate relationship, partner counselling may also be appropriate. See our FAQs page for more about IC and sexual activity.

Use the following links to learn about changes that you can make to your diet and lifestyle to help you cope with your condition. The Interstitial Cystitis Network provides an excellent and detailed self-help handbook, which is available online at  www.ic-network.com/handbook.

Food and Drink

Although there are no studies which prove that diet is associated with interstitial cystitis (IC), many women have found that eliminating certain foods from their diet helps reduce their pain and bladder irritation. The foods that trigger these symptoms differ from woman to woman; however, the most common culprits appear to be citrus foods. Many physicians now suggest avoiding acidic fruits and juices, like orange, grapefruit and lemon. Cranberry juice is also very acidic, and although some women use it to help combat bladder infections, women with IC often find it causes irritation and pain.

To determine whether your diet is influencing your symptoms, try keeping a diary of your symptoms for a week while on your regular diet. Then begin by eliminating one food at a time, for a week each, and see if this influences your symptoms. This is time-consuming, but it may help you identify simple ways to limit your pain. The Interstitial Cystitis Network found that the following 10 foods and drinks are the most frequently identified irritants for people with IC:

  • cranberry juice and extracts
  • tea and coffee
  • pop and other carbonated beverages
  • tomatoes
  • tofu and some beans (soy, lima, fava)
  • herbal teas
  • alcohol and vinegar
  • chocolate
  • strawberries and other acidic fruit
  • food additives, like MSG and nitrates

The Interstitial Cystitis Network offers a more extensive list of potentially irritating foods and details about elimination diets on their website. The Interstitial Cystitis Association also has a helpful webpage on IC and Diet, which includes a list of do’s and don’ts.

As mentioned, both caffeine and alcohol cause irritation for many women. They are also diuretics, which means they increase your need to urinate. If urinary frequency is a major problem for you, it may be particularly important for you to avoid these beverages or at least limit your intake. Although most people with IC find wine and most liquor irritating, some people have reported that a single lager or other light beer relieves their symptoms.


Sometimes you will just want to eat what you feel like eating or a particular food you are craving. Taking antacids just before eating an acidic food may help curb the food’s irritating effect.

Coping with Flare-Ups

For most women with interstitial cystitis, their pain and need to urinate frequently are not constant. They may go through periods of time with no symptoms, or only mild ones, and then experience a flare-up where their symptoms are severe. Sometimes it is not clear why a flare-up occurs, but it may be associated with:

  • eating something irritating
  • sexual intercourse
  • the time around ovulation or before your period

Whatever causes the flare-up, it is best to treat the symptoms as soon as you notice them. Ignoring them will not make the symptoms go away. Here are some suggestions that may be useful:

  • Apply a heating or cooling pad to the painful area (whatever works best for you; however, don't leave an ice pack in place for more than a few minutes).
  • Take a warm bath (without soaps or bubble bath).
  • Drink clear water (it may help flush out irritants).
  • Take it easy.

Pain Medication

If you have been prescribed pain medication to take as needed, take it as soon as you notice the symptoms. Don't save it for later. Hopefully, the drugs can control the pain before it gets worse. Even if your pain becomes severe, never take more than your doctor has recommended. If the pain is unmanageable, call your doctor or go to a hospital emergency room.

Sleep Disruption

Flare-ups are often worse at night, in part, because there is nothing to distract you. Your pain and need to urinate frequently can make it impossible to sleep, which can make you feel tired and irritable the next day.

Most women find it is better to get up and do something than to lie in bed thinking about it. Even if you just watch TV, getting out of the bedroom until you're ready to sleep helps preserve the mental connection between bed and sleep. If your sleep is being interrupted frequently, talk to your doctor about medications that can help. Make sure you are really tired before you try to sleep, and use a heating pad or pillow to make yourself as comfortable as possible. Try to maintain a consistent sleeping schedule, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.


Relaxation techniques can help you cope with a flare-up. Using these strategies regularly can also reduce stress in your life, and may decrease the occurrence of flare-ups. You can learn techniques like yoga and meditation, to help relax your muscles and reduce tension. Visiting an acupuncturist or a massage therapist can also help you relax and may reduce the strain on your pelvic floor muscles.


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