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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

Interstitial cystitis is a puzzling bladder condition, in which the bladder wall becomes irritated or inflamed, causing pain and frequent or painful urination.

The symptoms of interstitial cystitis are often similar to the symptoms of a urinary tract infection. However, in interstitial cystitis, there is no infection, and the symptoms do not respond to antibiotic treatment.

The exact cause of interstitial cystitis remains a mystery, although researchers continue to investigate possible causes, such as unidentified bacteria, an allergic or immune system reaction, a toxic substance in the urine, or a neurological problem in the bladder wall. There also is some evidence that interstitial cystitis may not be just one illness, but several illnesses that share similar symptoms.

Interstitial cystitis usually occurs between the ages of 20 and 50. Approximately 90% of people with interstitial cystitis are women. It is unknown why interstitial cystitis is more common in women. The disease is not known to be genetic (inherited) or caused by toxins in the environment.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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