This question has been a reoccurring one since developing Interstitial Cystitis twenty five years ago. I wanted to share how I’ve learned to distinguish the two (most of the time), as it isn’t easy, and not knowing the difference can drive those of us with IC bonkers. It can also cause unnecessary trips to the emergency room and hence medical bills we don’t need.
Interstitial Cystitis is a chronic condition, there is no cure and it causes pain that most women would flip a coin if they had to decide between labor and an IC attack. At its worst, it feels like a burning knife has made its way up the urethra and bladder. It took nine years before I found an IC knowledgeable urologist who ordered a biopsy of the bladder and diagnosed the condition. With IC, the bladder lining that protects the bladder from acidity (from what we eat, drink, hormonal changes etc.) is compromised with pinpoint hemorrhages and in the worst of cases ulcers. Consequently, the bladder is in a near constant state of irritation and upset. This cause frequent urination, chronic discomfort and severe pain.
Yesterday my bladder pain flared up along with the question- Is this an IC attack or do I have a bladder infection? Here’s what helps me distinguish the two. (*These tips do not always answer the question correctly, but for me, most the time they do. You’ve most likely ascertained by now that I am not a doctor, nurse or medical professional, just a woman who has lived a long time with IC, sharing my own experience. If you think you might have a bladder infection, call or see a doctor.)
Questions I ask myself when I realize my bladder is hurting more than it should be:
-Does it hurt when I am peeing? If yes- Clue it’s a bladder infection
-Does it feel better when I am peeing? Do I want to just sit on the pot because it feels better than when I’m not sitting on it? - Most always IC
If I notice that peeing is painful, I get out my test strips-
-AZO test strips-a new and wonderful product that I recently discovered on my grocery store shelf. You can buy this test strip kit over the counter in the feminine section of the grocery store, pharmacy etc…where Uristat, AZO, Monistat etc. are sold. Follow the directions closely (simple-hold the strip, the side with two test pads into the urine flow), wait two minutes and then compare the color of the test pads with the color blocks on the back of the bottle.
-If positive call or see a doctor.
Yesterday, my test came out positive; I called my doctor. He wasn’t in so I went to an urgent care facility, where they did their own test (positive). I left with a prescription for antibiotics. I also left with the peace of mind that I wouldn’t have to endure a worsening bladder infection, left untreated too long because I thought I was having an IC attack. An infected, already compromised IC bladder, can cause excruciating pain. It has sent me to the hospital in the middle of the night needing a Demerol drip and IV antibiotics too many times.
Yesterday, I quicly found the answer to the nagging IC question “Is this an IC attack or bladder infection?” It spared me a great deal of pain, hours in the emergency room, and the financial cost of being there.
Readers with IC, if you have other ways that help you distinguish between an IC attack and bladder attack; I hope you will share them.
I also test with AZO strips but sometimes they aren't reliable. I never get a false negative but I have gotten false positives a few times. I usually find the best thing to do is see my doctor right away if the test is positive. Since either a UTI or an IC flare can cause me horrible pain I usually start on pain medication right away. Other than that, its gut instinct. If it feels better directly after voiding but the pain starts to come back in 10 minutes that usually means its IC, where as the pain from a UTI almost never leaves not even after voiding my bladder. If the pyridium and pain killers don't help me with pain that usually means its a UTI, because for reasons I don't understand when its infection the pain is more resistant to medication. Strange but true. I hope you are flare free.