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January 03, 2022 2 min read

How do I know the difference between Interstitial Cystitis and UTI?

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By Board Certified Urologist Dr. Yana Barbalat

Many symptoms of interstitial cystitis and UTIs overlap. In fact, when I look inside the bladder of patients who have just had a UTI or who have chronic interstitial cystitis, the appearance of the bladder wall is very similar. That’s because both conditions are characterized by inflammation of the bladder. The bladder typically has pink or red patches throughout or even sometimes, all over, depending on the extent of the inflammation. Patients with UTIs and IC (interstitial cystitis) have similar symptoms and experience frequency, urgency, and bladder pain, especially when the bladder is full.

So how do I tell the difference between IC and UTI?

Well, the first way to tell a difference is by doing a urine culture. If the culture is positive for bacteria, then the patient has a UTI. After a full treatment course with antibiotics, the uncomfortable symptoms should go away within the next few weeks. If the patient continues to have symptoms of bladder pain, urgency and frequency, it is important to get a repeat culture to make sure the infection was fully treated.

With IC, patients experience bladder pain and inflammation despite negative urine cultures. Sometimes, a UTI can trigger IC by essentially traumatizing the bladder and setting off a cycle of bladder pain that lasts a while and is difficult to control. I typically tell patients who have prolonged bladder pain after a UTI to get on an IC diet, avoiding any foods that you would not put in your mouth if you had a mouth sore. I tell patients to increase their water intake as well. Anti-inflammatories and anti-histamines occasionally help as well.  Because IC is not the only condition that can cause bladder pain despite a negative urine culture, it is important to talk to a urologist so that a correct diagnosis is established.

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