What's The Difference Between Interstitial Cystitis And A Urinary Tract Infection?

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When you're facing intense pain every time you go to the bathroom, you're likely more concerned with solving the problem rather than worrying about the exact cause. However, the pain could be due to a short-term urinary tract infection (UTI) or a more chronic case of interstitial cystitis (CI), or even a combination of both at the same time. Learn how to tell the symptoms of these two bladder conditions apart.

Urine Changes

First, a UTI tends to change the urine itself because that's where the bacteria are growing. A person suffering from an infection may notice their urine is dark, strong smelling, and may contain blood. There's nothing about CI that would cause these kinds of changes. Unless you have a UTI at the same time, you likely don't have CI if you're experiencing urine changes.

Bacterial Levels

The first time you visit your doctor complaining of burning during urination and the urge to go when your bladder is empty, you'll likely receive a simple urine examination and an automatic prescription for antibiotics. Doctors often fail to culture urine to actually see if bacteria is growing until a patient complains the antibiotics don't work. Either way, patients with IC have very little to no bacteria in their urine while they're having their symptoms. Since a UTI is caused by bacteria, a urine culture is one of the fastest ways to narrow down which problem you're dealing with at this time.

Ongoing Symptoms

Of course, IC doesn't go away from a course of antibiotics, while most UTIs are gone after one to two rounds of treatment. IC also tends to fade away on its own and return unexpectedly, leading doctors and patients alike to refer to these episodes as IC flare-ups. If your symptoms change from day to day regardless of what you and your doctor do to improve the health of your kidneys and bladder, the signs are pointing to IC rather than a UTI.

Extra Pain

Finally, IC tends to cause other painful symptoms aside from just bladder and urethral irritation. You may feel pain anywhere in the general pelvic area, from deep cramps similar to those that accompany menstruation to sharp and pinpoint stabbing in a single spot. UTIs are accompanied by lower back pain, but rarely generate general pelvic pain and heaviness. This is one of the more subtle symptom differences between the two, so don't rely on your type of pain alone to try to diagnose yourself. Contact a clinic, like Western Branch Center for Women, for more help.