Bladder inflammation, known formally as interstitial cystitis, is a chronic condition involving the bladder and surrounding organs of the genitourinary system. Often confused with a bladder infection, bladder inflammation causes mild to severe pain, pressure and discomfort that fluctuates between intermittent and constant episodes. Bladder inflammation has no cure, but you may find relief by making lifestyle changes, which includes avoiding foods that cause painful flare-ups.
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The American Urological Association reports that interstitial cystitis has several potential causes. These include a defect in the protective bladder epithelium, uncontrolled allergic reactions in bladder cells, a foreign object in the bladder, bladder nerve damage and subsequent signal miscommunication or autoimmune reactions.
Common symptoms of bladder inflammation include chronic pain and burning in the bladder and pelvis, the urgent need to urinate, frequent urination during the day and night, and pain during and after sexual intercourse. Symptoms vary from person to person and may flare up in response to certain triggers, including menstruation, prolonged sitting, exercise, stress and specific foods. There are no standard treatments for interstitial cystitis. Symptoms are treated on an individual basis, and the results and prognosis vary, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Healthcare professionals and scientists do not formally recognize diet as a direct cause of bladder inflammation, but the Interstitial Cystitis Association reports that valid research links certain foods to inflammation flare-ups. Since these trigger foods vary from person to person, your physician may suggest an elimination diet. This treatment involves eliminating known trigger foods from your diet and reintroducing them one at a time to note any changes in your symptoms. Once you know your personal problem foods, you can better manage your condition.
The “Four Cs”
The most reported trigger foods are summarized as the “Four Cs.” These foods include carbonated beverages, caffeine in all forms, citrus fruits and foods with high vitamin C concentrations.
High Potassium Foods
High concentrations of potassium also irritate the bladder, according to the American Urological Association. Avoid foods with high potassium, including chocolate, tomatoes, coffee, nuts, seeds and certain fish.
Some patients report that foods and beverages containing artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose, cause painful inflammation. Common foods and beverages labeled as “diet” or “sugar-free” often have these artificial sweeteners, which you should consume in moderation.
Other Foods and Beverages
Other trigger foods and beverages include alcohol, spicy foods, hot peppers, highly acidic foods and cranberry juice. You may find that some foods that give you problems when fresh may not cause flare-ups when cooked. The Interstitial Cystitis Association warns that dairy products can trigger inflammation if you have a milk allergy or lactose intolerance.
- American Urological Association: Interstitial Cystitis
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Interstitial Cystitis
- Interstitial Cystitis Association: What We Know About IC & Diet
- University of California Los Angeles, Urology Department, School of Medicine: Interstitial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome