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What's in a name: IC or PBS?

If you have been following research in pelvic pain, you may be aware of the diagnostic terms interstitial cystitis (IC) as well as painful bladder syndrome (PBS). And there's always bladder pain syndrome (BPS), or hypersensitive bladder syndrome. While you may have heard at some point that health care providers should use PBS preferentially over IC, that recommendation does not seem to have stuck, and the Interstitial Cystitis Association (ICA) has decided to utilize "IC" until a more definitive diagnostic criteria and test are developed. Much of the literature you will continue to see published will choose to include both IC and PBS together in the title, and recent research has attempted to further define the diagnosis as having a relationship to ulcers versus no ulcers.

Recognized subtypes of IC include ulcerative (5-10% of those with IC) and non-ulcerative (90% of those with IC). According to the ICA, patients who have non-ulcerative IC have tiny glomerulations or hemorrhages on the bladder wall, indicative of inflammation, but not specific to IC. In patients who have ulcerative IC, Hunner's ulcer's or patches of red, bleeding areas are noted on cystoscopy. Recent research aimed to find out if female patients with ulcerative versus non-ulcerative IC have different symptoms or characteristics. 214 women (36 with ulcerative IC, 178 with non-ulcerative IC) were included in this research. While both groups reported triggers such as certain foods, exercise, and stress, more patients who had non-ulcerative IC reported pain with intercourse.

On the Brief Pain Inventory, one of the outcomes tools used in this study, both groups reported similar numbers of painful areas, with lower abdominal and pelvic pain followed by low back pain. Words used to describe the pain were, however, different among the two subtypes of IC: patients with non-ulcerative IC reported aching, cramping, and tenderness, while patients in the ulcerative group reported sharp, stabbing, and hot burning pain. Aside from these differences, the patients in the two groups did not share significant differences in the outcomes measured. The authors suggest that further research is needed to provide more information about the different presentations of patients who have IC/PBS.

For those of us in pelvic rehabilitation, the most important aspect of our care is to treat what is found, and that can only be accomplished through excellent examination and evaluation techniques. If you are interested in learning more about IC, the ICA website provides a wide array of tools for patients and providers. Until then, we will continue to see IC, PBS, BPS, and other abbreviations that point out that there is much yet to learn about this disabling condition.

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