How To Manage Interstitial Cystitis Naturally
When Colby and I started talking about starting our family, we knew that before that could happen I needed to reevaluate the medications I was taking for my IC. Taking IC medications while pregnant is definitely a personal decision and one that needs to be made with your doctor. Sadly there is limited research done on the effects certain IC medications may have on a fetus but the research that has been done clearly shows that certain medications do pose a risk to the unborn child and can lead to abnormalities. Seeing as how I have multiple health issues already that could cause issues with pregnancy, we simply weren’t looking to add any other possible risks to that and after much research and conversations with my doctor, we decided it would be best for me to stop my IC medications. Although some women choose to stay on their IC medications this was something neither Colby or I, ever felt comfortable with.
We decided to give it a trial run first and go off my medication before we wanted to start trying. This really was just to see how my body would react after being on Elavil for 1.5 years. I wanted to see how my body would handle the IC without medication and if my symptoms would remain the same or if they would get worse. This needed to be done before becoming pregnant to see if I would be able to handle pregnancy without my medications or if we would need to look at other options. Although this doesn’t give a completely accurate result ( pregnancy itself can make IC worse and you never know how it will affect you) it was at least a starting point. If my symptoms increased while being off medication, we knew I would need to find some type of alternative to treat my IC. Unfortunately for me, my IC symptoms did increase once being off medications. Although on a day to day basis my symptoms are manageable they are still there and still quite uncomfortable. Fortunately I am able to predict when most, not all, but most of my flares will occur. Ovulation, the days leading up to and the days right after my period are the worst, along with any type of intimacy. Hormones play a huge role in my IC flares.
In knowing all of this, I knew I had to find alternative or more natural ways to treat my IC. It wasn’t like I would just be going without my medication while pregnant for 9 months but I will also need to be off my medication while trying to become pregnant, as well as for the amount of time after for as long as I intend to breastfeed. That is a long time to be without any relief. I know that we are making the best decision for our future children but that decision wouldn’t be worth it if I was in severe pain the entire time. Daily pain puts stress on our body and stress while pregnant can have adverse consequences. That means I needed to find other ways to treat and manage my pain throughout this time period.
So, what am I doing to help manage my IC…
- ALOE VERA:
Aloe Vera has been said to act quite similar to Elmiron. Elmiron is currently the only FDA approved drug for IC. It is also a drug I am quite familiar with and one that did not work for me and actually caused worse issues. I talk about my experience with Elmiron here. However, it has been speculated that just like Elmiron, Aloe Vera can work to help rebuild the gag layer of the bladder. One issue many IC patients have is holes and tears in their bladder lining which can cause pain. Imagine pouring acid on an open wound. Aloe Vera, has been thought to help heal the lining of the bladder and also has anti-inflammatory properties. The great thing about Aloe Vera is that it has little to no side effects unlike Elmiron and it is safe to use while pregnant. I currently use Aloe Vera by Desert Harvest.
- MARSHMALLOW ROOT
Marshmallow root has been used in Western medicine for years and many people use the leaves to make a tea. However, the roots of the plant are the most beneficial to those with IC. You can find marshmallow root capsules at pretty much any health food store. Marshmallow root is said to help sooth the bladder wall, the lining of the kidneys and the entire urinary tract. It also is an anti inflammatory and works to help bladder spasms. Marshmallow root is a safe and quite gentle herb and just like Aloe Vera it is safe to use during pregnancy.
Probiotics are something that really everyone should take regardless if they have IC or not but it is extremely important for those who do have it. I personally take a probiotic by Ultimate Flora which is designed specifically to help promote healthy yeast balance as well as support vaginal and urinary health.
- LOTS OF WATER
Again another one of those things that everyone should already be doing but if you have IC you really do need to drink a ton! The unfortunate part of this is that drinking water sets off a vicious cycle. With IC you experience painful urination, burning and like your peeing out shards of glass and this is because your urine is acidic. So you need to drink more water to flush everything out and make your bladder less acidic BUT the more you drink the more your have to pee and when you pee it hurts. It is a vicious vicious cycle. Whenever I feel a flare coming on I increase how much water I drink and although it is painful in the beginning, the more I drink and the more time passes the less acidic my urine is and the less pain I experience.
- WHOLE FOODS
While some need to follow the IC diet, others have found that they experience no change in doing so or that foods are not their issue. As I mentioned earlier my biggest triggers with IC is hormones as well as a severely tight pelvic floor. Foods do not really bother my bladder. But, although I do not follow the IC diet, I have changed up my diet quite a bit…mainly just as an overall goal to become healthier in general but I also figured it could not hurt in terms of my IC. I try to eat whole foods, more natural foods and avoid overly processed items. Does this mean I never eat a box of mac n cheese or a frozen pizza, no, but I do limit how much of those items I eat. I’m not perfect, but I am trying to eat more whole foods, more fruits and veggies and be healthier overall.
- SITZ BATH
There are some days where the burning just becomes too much. The easiest way to describe it is imagine your insides are on fire or that someone is holding a blow torch up to your most sensitive parts. Although this does not always helps, taking a sitz bath is always worth a try. Many times it can help alleviate the pain and bring it to more manageable amounts.
This is my lifesaver and I am pretty sure I am keeping this company in business with how much I purchase. You will always find this in my bathroom as well as in my purse. I do not go anywhere without it. Please, talk with your doctor before using this as a long term medication though. You can either get it directly from your doctor, which generally goes by the name pyridium, or you can buy the Azo brand over the counter. DO NOT get the kind with cranberry as that is extremely acidic to an IC bladder and will make things worse. Azo works to help alleviate frequency and burning and you will know when it starts to work because it changes your urine colors. If you are using the Azo brand do not become alarmed when you start peeing a bright bright orange lol. Be wary though, this stuff will stain everything! Azo helps sooth the lining of the urinary tract and helps prevent burning and helps bladder spasms that make you feel like you gotta go all the time. It works relatively quick as well, usually within about 20-30 minutes which is a lifesaver when other options can take much longer to work. Although Azo is not expected to cause harm during pregnancy or breastfeeding it is advised to not use this medication without your doctor’s advice.
- BAKING SODA W/ WATER
Ah, the old baking soda with water trick. This method is again great to help relieve any burning or pain you may be having. Although it isn’t recommended to do this on a daily basis. But, if you need a quick remedy this one will help. Mix 1/2 tsp baking soda in a glass of water and drink. It won’t taste great but it can help if you are in a pinch! It is said this works because it helps to make your urine more alkaline.
I mentioned earlier that part of my issue is that my pelvic floor muscles are extremely tight. Just like how our backs and other muscles in our body can become tight and painful so can the bladder and pelvic floor. These muscles tense up and unlike our back which is easy to reach and massage, it is a bit more difficult with the pelvic floor. If the muscles are constantly tight this can cause pain and also uncontrollable and random muscle spasms. You often hear women talk about doing kegel exercises to tighten their pelvic floor but if you have IC you want to avoid kegels like they are the plague! Here are some things you should be doing instead.
- TENS UNIT
A tens unit is great because this can be done with a physical therapist at an office or in your own home. A tens unit sends electrical pulses to your muscles and helps to loosen them up so they are not as tight. It also can help stimulate nerve endings which often shoot signals of pain even when there isn’t any. A tens unit can help to stop the misfire of communication between your brain and bladder.
Again something that can be used with your physical therapist or in the privacy of your home. Dilators help to stretch the muscles and can be used to massage the pelvic floor muscles internally. Generally used 2-3 times a week but can also be used daily for up to 30 minutes at a time. Dilators come in a set of different sizes so that you can gradually over time increase the size used and to stretch and loosen the tight muscles that may be causing pain. While dilators are a bit awkward, especially when done with a physical therapist they are extremely beneficial especially if intimacy is painful for you. Personally I use this set at home. They can be used by leaving them in internally for 30 minutes or used to massage trigger points (knots) located on the pelvic floor.
- BIO FEEDBACK/TRIGGER POINT THERAPY
This is done with a physical therapist in an office. Bio feedback is a wand probe that is inserted vaginally and hooked up to a machine. Your physical therapist will ask you to push down or squeeze in order to measure the strength of your pelvic floor muscles. For some women, myself included, these muscles are constantly tight and they never relax…which in turn causes pain. The same muscles also tighten up on their own without me even knowing. With bio feedback, a machine can register if your muscles are tightening up on their own. Often they will do so and when asked about it, you had no idea it was even happening. Bio feedback is an important starting point for physical therapy because it allows your doctor to know what to work on. Next comes trigger point therapy. This can be done both externally and internally. Usually both will be utilized at some point. Trigger point therapy is used to manually massage the knots located on our pelvic floor with the idea that once loosened pain will be alleviated.
- BLADDER RETRAINING EXERCISES
This can be done with a physical therapist and at home on your own. Bladder retraining exercises is for those of us who experience frequency. The point of this exercise is to extend the amount of time between bathroom uses. So, if you normally go every 10 minutes, try to hold it for 15 minutes and then go. Once you conquered 15 minutes try 20. This is a long process and doesn’t work with everyone and sometimes for me, can cause more harm than good. But, it does work if you are patient and give it time.
REDUCE STRESS & EXERCISE
- YOGA & MEDITATION
Yoga and meditation can do wonders for your bladder. In fact there are many poses that are specifically designed to help the pelvic floor. I have found an abundance of yoga channels that focus on the pelvic floor on Youtube. Child’s pose is great for when you are in a flare! Meditation can also do wonders and really helps when in a flare. Meditation is all about working on your breathing, being in tune with your body and lowering your stress. I have found that when I am stressed or experiencing anxiety I often will have an IC flare. So for me, meditating and keeping my anxiety at a low really helps my overall bladder health.
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