Interstitial Cystitis Diagnosis, But Is It Really?

It’s very common for patients with bladder and pelvic pain to be misdiagnosed with interstitial cystitis (IC for short), when they actually have pelvic floor dysfunction! It’s important to understand all of the factors that play into pelvic pain before slapping on a label that may not be accurate. If you need a refresher on the anatomy and other causes of pelvic pain, check out this blog post. Let’s go over the differences between a true Interstitial Cystitis diagnosis and pelvic floor dysfunction, as well as what you can do to help both of these conditions!

Interstitial Cystitis (IC)

IC is often used as a catch-all diagnosis for any pain, pressure, or discomfort located in the pelvic and bladder region. True IC is characterized by pain with bladder filling, relief with bladder emptying, and increased urinary urgency resulting in frequent urination. True IC can be extremely disruptive to quality of life for many patients.

It’s not entirely known what causes IC, but it is likely due to an increased response to inflammation and histamine in the body. Foods and drinks that contain caffeine, alcohol, and sugar are most likely to increase inflammation and bladder symptoms, however specific triggers are different for everyone. 

Pelvic Floor Dysfunction (PFD)

This is another broad term used to describe a variety of issues in the pelvic region. Pelvic floor dysfunction is commonly due to tight pelvic floor muscles that can cause pain to refer to the hips, low back, and bladder, and will often cause urinary urgency as well. Unlike IC, people with PFD are more likely to experience pain with bladder emptying than filling. However, people with both PFD and IC are typically sensitive to inflammation in their diets or from other lifestyle factors such as chronic stress, sedentary lifestyle, and poor sleep habits. 

Which one do I have?

This is where things get a little tricky. Because IC and PFD can present in a similar manner, it’s relatively common for women with PFD to be misdiagnosed with IC. To make matters more confusing, people with true IC almost always have some sort of pelvic floor dysfunction too! Whether or not you have true or misdiagnosed IC, it is important that you are evaluated by a pelvic floor physical therapist to determine how your pelvic health may be impacting your symptoms.  

Treatment Options 

The good news is that pelvic floor physical therapists are experts at treating symptoms of interstitial cystitis diagnosis AND pelvic floor dysfunction! We offer a combined approach to address all of the factors that contribute to your specific condition. 

  • Myofascial treatment to the pelvic floor, bladder, and urethra can increase blood flow, calm the nerves, and release any tightness in the tissues
  • Diet modifications are important to eliminate foods and beverages that may be causing increased inflammation in your body
  • Bladder retraining can help modify the brain signals to and from your bladder to decrease sensations of urgency and pain
  • Neurological downtraining to help alleviate some of the stress responses your body is putting out and help regulate your nervous system


We understand that navigating the differences between true IC, misdiagnosed IC, and PFD can be confusing and frustrating. Whether you have received a diagnosis of IC or think you may have it, schedule an evaluation with one of our pelvic floor specialists to learn how we can help you feel better!