The bladder is a hollow, muscular organ with an inner layer called a urinary epithelium. Two ureters carry urine from the kidney to the bladder. At the lowest point is a urethra, a narrow tube from which urine empties when it’s sphincter muscle releases.
Stones, or calculi, can develop in the bladder when minerals that should be in solution in the urine congeal. The condition is more common in men, and is more commonly found in low-protein diets.
Infection of the bladder (cystitis) is more common in women, with the suspected reason of our shorter urethra providing less of a barrier against bacteria.
An irritable bladder, in which there is a frequent urge to urinate, can be due to a urinary tract infection, a prolapsed uterus, or a disease effecting the nerves such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis. The presence of kidney stones or endometriosis can also irritate the bladder.
It is also associated with anxiety and stress, excess caffeine intake, and a deficiency of magnesium.
About a million women in the U.S. have interstitial cystitis (IC), also called painful bladder syndrome. The presentation of symptoms varies, but may include frequent urination, pelvic pain, and pain when the bladder expands. It may be worse during menstruation and sex. It is important to treat, as being left untreated can cause scarring of the bladder which will further effect quality of life.
It’s diagnosis is mainly made by ruling out other conditions.
According to Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN, NP at Women to Women, IC can be defined this way:
“Interstitial cystitis is most often recognized as a chronic neuroinflammatory disorder affecting the bladder — a complex interrelationship between bladder nerves, the immune system, and the urinary tract.”
What can cause chronic inflammation?
Diet is one big cause, if you are choosing breads, pastas, sugars and convenience foods over fresh vegetables and organic proteins. Dr. Pick points out the acidic juices, sodas and tomatoes can irritate IC. Coffee and tea, even decaffeinated tea, can cause inflammation in the bladder.
A lack of sleep can trigger chronic inflammation, as well as a chronic infection in the mouth or gut, or chronic pain in the body.
Low levels of estrogen can increase inflammatory mast cells, and low levels of progesterone can cause increased histamine levels. These conditions are becoming common in our modern, stressful lifestyles, and will be exacerbated with chemical birth control use or perimenopause.
When there is inflammation in one area of the body, we will tend to see inflammation in the brain as well. Brain fog, anyone?
How about the immune component?
Certainly a chronic state of inflammation will cause some imbalance in the immune system. Chronic inflammation in the gut, for example, can lead to a condition of ‘leaky gut.’ Protein peptides that were incompletely digested in the gut now leak into the blood stream. The body’s immune system will respond by marking and attacking these foreign peptides.
Unfortunately this new ‘up-regulated’ immune response may cause confusion in the body and our own body’s tissues now get marked and attacked.
Antibodies to the M3 receptors in the bladder muscle is found in many cases of IC, but it thought be be secondary to the disease. Many people with IC also have another autoimmune disease, with Sjögren's syndrome showing the strongest connection. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17823601)
According to Harvard Health Publications, “during cystoscopy, the clinician may take a biopsy (tissue sample) of the bladder to rule out bladder cancer and look for evidence of the mast cells that indicate an allergic reaction or autoimmune response.”
“No one knows the exact cause of interstitial cystitis. One theory is that it’s caused by infection with an undiscovered agent, such as a virus. Another is that it’s an autoimmune disorder set in motion by a bladder infection; cells that normally fight infection attack the bladder lining instead, causing pain, redness, and swelling (inflammation). Yet another theory is that mast cells normally involved in allergic responses release histamine into the bladder.
Some research has focused on defects in the layer of protective mucus that lines the bladder, which causes so-called leaky bladder syndrome. A leaky bladder allows harmful substances in the urine to leak through the mucous layer and inflame or ulcerate tissue below.
Another idea is that sensory nerves within the bladder ‘turn on’ and spur the release of inflammatory substances. Because interstitial cystitis is mainly a woman’s disease, researchers think that hormones possibly contribute.”
The good news is this condition can respond well to conventional treatment with your MD and/or natural therapies of gut healing and lowering inflammation. Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in developing a personalized plan to optimize your health. ~Bridgit