Interstitial cystitis, or IC, is characterized by severe bladder pain, urgency and frequency of urination -- even overnight. Although the exact cause of the disease is unknown, toxins that irritate the bladder wall have been associated with pain symptoms in some patients with IC. Potassium is one mineral in particular that can be toxic to the bladder wall.
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Potassium Sensitivity Test
Potassium can be used as a diagnostic tool for people who might have IC. In a procedure called the potassium sensitivity test, the bladder is rinsed via catheter with water, which is painless, and is then rinsed with a potassium solution. Many people with IC experience pain when potassium is introduced to the bladder, probably because the mineral irritates the damaged bladder wall. However, the potassium wash does not have this effect on everyone who has IC, so it is not required for a diagnosis.
The connection between potassium and bladder pain was initially suggested, because some foods that bother most people with IC -- particularly tomatoes, citrus and chocolate -- are high in potassium. However, other foods with high potassium, such as turkey meat, do not seem to trigger pain symptoms as often. Physicians who treat IC may advise patients who experienced pain with the potassium bladder wash to avoid foods with high potassium content.
Products that bind extra potassium in the body may be useful to reduce pain in people with IC who appear sensitive to high levels of potassium in their urine. Products like Polycitra-K, which contains potassium and citric acid, are typically used to prevent kidney stones, but their ability to lower acid levels in the urine may also protect the bladder wall from attack by extra potassium particles.
Potassium in the IC Diet
Despite its irritating effect on bladders affected by IC, potassium is an essential mineral for healthy cell functions. Potassium is important for proper muscle, heart and nerve activities. Fresh foods like honeydew, blueberries and fresh vegetables, as well as nuts, beans and brown rice contain healthy amounts of potassium for people living with IC. However, because food triggers differ among individuals, people with IC should observe their particular IC diet and carefully note any trigger foods.