Symptoms of IC vary from woman to woman. However, most experience pain, pressure, and discomfort as the bladder fills. In addition, chronic pain or pressure in the pelvis and perineum are common. The perineum is the tissue (skin and muscles) located between the vagina and the anus. Many experience discomfort and pain during sexual intercourse or flares in their symptoms after intercourse. The severity of symptoms is variable.
Urinary urgency (“gotta go right now”) and urinary frequency (“gotta go often”) are common - both during the day and at night. Many women feel a constant need to empty their bladders to relieve the intensity of the pain. Women with IC rarely leak urine but go often to decrease pain. Some women note symptoms specifically in their urethra. The urethra is the tube from the bladder to the outside of the body that urine passes through during urination. For those with symptoms in the urethra, urinating can feel like “pushing sharp pieces of glass into tissue”.
IC flares are periods of extreme symptoms. Flares are common during the menstrual period. They also occur during times of emotional or physical stress. Also, certain foods and drinks may trigger flares.
A small proportion of women with IC have a specific type of lesion, known as a Hunner’s lesion. For these patients, cracks in the lining of the bladder are also often visible. These are usually seen after many years of having the condition, especially if inadequately treated. Hunner’s lesions are diagnosed on cystoscopy (a procedure that visualizes the inside of the bladder).