What causes interstitial cystitis is not an easy question to answer. Over the years, through my own experience with interstitial cystitis and through speaking with other women and men with the condition, I have learned that interstitial cystitis is not just a condition of the bladder.
When you are diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, you most likely have a host of imbalances in the body that all contributed to your state of dis-ease.
Warning signs of an out of balance body
Long before I was diagnosed with IC, I was experiencing anxiety, depression, extreme fatigue and horrible, persistent brain fog that left me feeling like there was a thick haze between myself and the rest of the world.
While I know now that these are actually signs of a brain that is degenerating too quickly as a result of chronic stress, unresolved early trauma, leaky gut and food sensitivities, at the time, I didn’t know what the heck was wrong with me.
The doctors I frequented kept telling me I was fine because my blood work was “normal” and didn’t really listen to me. But I knew that how I was feeling was not normal.
Your unique health history
Like many of us with IC, I knew I had to take my health into my own hands and start to find answers. I started out by writing out my complete health history, taking into consideration physical, mental, emotional, psychological and environmental factors. I went back as far as I could remember, asking family for help to fill in the gaps. I collected copies of any blood work and medical tests from the past 5-10 years.
I also read as much as I could about interstitial cystitis in books and online and also started to see various alternative health practitioners in search of answers and treatment. It wasn’t until I studied holistic nutrition and became a nutritionist myself, that I really began to understand just how connected all of our body systems are.
It was there that I really learned that there is usually one or a couple of root causes that start the downward cascade into poor health. By uncovering these root causes, you can begin to understand where your body first began to lose balance and how and why other areas of your body began to be affected, resulting in multiple and often confusing and inconsistent symptoms.
The take home point here is that what causes interstitial cystitis in one person, may not be what causes it in another. It is a multi-faceted disease and although you may not have any obvious symptoms of your body losing balance anywhere but your bladder, I can guarantee it that your body began to lose homeostasis long before your diagnosis of IC.
What causes interstitial cystitis? The common thread.
All chronic disease processes involve a state of stress in the body that has become chronic. Whenever your body must struggle with compensating for imbalances and poor functions, it creates a physiological stress response.
For instance, if you are not producing enough hydrochloric acid in the stomach for protein digestion, your food sits too long in the stomach, most likely resulting in acid reflux, gas and bloating. Food passes into the small intestine not broken down as it should be, which puts a strain on the rest of the digestive system, including the pancreas, gall bladder, small and large intestines and the colon. Undigested food is also the ideal food for unbeneficial bacteria and parasites to feast on in the colon, creating toxins that may be reabsorbed back into the body, which puts additional strain on the detoxification pathways involving the kidneys and liver. You can easily see how one area of weakness or imbalance creates a cascade effect that negatively impacts another organ system and creates a state of chronic stress in the body.
There are many types of stress
Besides physiological stressors that create a chronic state of stress and imbalance in the body when left unchecked, psychological and emotional imbalances also set off a stress response in the body, forcing our adrenal glands to pump out more stress hormones, such as cortisol and creating a state of imbalance in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), messing with our hormones and eventually leading to unchecked inflammation in various areas of the body.
All types of stressors, including physiological, psychological and emotional, are influenced by our environment and involve stimulation and activation of the sympathetic nervous system, also known as “fight or flight” mode. In today’s world, we are often kept in this state for long periods of time and it can even become our “normal” state. There are a lot of demands placed on us and seemingly not enough time in the day.
A closer look at the sympathetic nervous system
When the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated into action by a real or perceived threat, our blood flow moves away from the gastrointestinal tract and towards the extremities in preparation to either fight or flee the situation. The bronchioles of the lung dilate to allow for greater oxygen exchange, heart rate increases to help increase blood flow to the skeletal muscles, pupils dilate allowing more light to enter the eye to enhance vision, intestinal and urinary sphincters are constricted and peristalsis is inhibited.
In a state of chronic stress, the nervous system becomes unbalanced and a downward spiral of brain function is set up, which in turn generates even higher levels of stress. The sympathetic nervous system is no longer kept in check by the part of the brain that is responsible for stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.The parasympathetic nervous system lags and the rest and digest functions begin to lose power, resulting in symptoms like dry eyes, dry mouth, chronic digestion issues, incontinence and other related symptoms.
Our environment matters
Our internal and external environments are constantly interacting with each other and our internal environment is constantly responding to our external environment. For instance, toxins we are exposed to in the workplace and at home and through beauty care products, evoke a physiological stress response in the body, as our detoxification pathways work overtime to protect our cells from harmful chemicals.
Our relationships with family and friends are part of our environment. This type of stressor can be particularly difficult to avoid, , especially if we are living with these people or interacting with them on a daily basis.
An overlooked source of chronic stress
One often overlooked source of stress that keeps our systems in a heightened state, or in sympathetic mode, is unresolved infant or childhood trauma. If there is unresolved emotional trauma, new situations can continuously trigger a stress response that began a long time ago and was never resolved.
For instance, if you had an illness when you were young that required hospitalization for any period of time, you most likely felt abandoned by one or both of your parents, which is an emotional trauma for a child and a very terrifying experience. Later in life, whenever your partner leaves the room or heads out to work in the morning, this action might trigger a stress response because your nervous system is triggered by a perceived abandonment, which is a threat to survival.
I recommend this video by Dr. Gabor Mate to anyone who is interested in exploring how early experiences are stored in our implicit memory and can manifest as chronic disease, personality disorders, attention disorders and other emotional disorders in adulthood that keep us in a chronic state of stress.
The quality of our air, water, food, relationships, workspaces and homes, all interact with our internal physiological, emotional and mental landscapes in a complex process involving our body constantly trying to maintain a state of homeostasis, or balance.
One tool you can use today to find out what caused your interstitial cystitis
So you see, what causes interstitial cystitis is not a simple question and there are no simple answers. You have to dig deep and explore all aspects of your life, tracking your unique root causes that put your body into a state of imbalance, which ultimately led to a diagnosis of interstitial cystitis.
Find a journal or open a word document and start writing! Soul searching and investigation via journal writing is one tool that I recommend in my 4 Weeks to IC Relief course. Start with your birth, or better yet, learn about your parents health and struggles with maintaining balance, particularly the health of your mother during pregnancy. Nothing you uncover is too trivial.
Write it all down. Find out as much as you can and then find a compassionate alternative health practitioner who has experience with treating interstitial cystitis and can guide you in bringing your body back into balance.
The road may be long and filled with unexpected twists and turns, but as long as you are traveling in the direction of health and moving away from dis-ease, you are on the right path!
Next week, I will discuss a variety of potential root causes and secondary causes that may be contributing to your interstitial cystitis. You will be able to identify where your imbalances lie and what potential avenues to explore with your practitioner when getting started on your healing plan. You won’t want to miss it!