Medicine, Procedures, Therapies

Is Interstitial Cystitis an Autoimmune Disease?

Global Autoimmune Institute classifies Interstitial Cystitis as Autoimmune-Related or Suspected Autoimmune Condition

Interstitial Cystitis (IC) is an autoimmune related condition that causes discomfort or pain in the bladder and a need to urinate frequently and urgently. It is far more common in women than in men. The symptoms vary from person to person. Some people may have pain without urgency or frequency. An autoimmune response to a bladder infection destroys the lining of the bladder wall [Autoimmune Association]. An unexplained association of IC has been found to exist with other autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, Sjogren syndrome, fibromyalgia, and atopic allergy [emedicinehealth].

Your bladder is a hollow, muscular organ that stores urine. The bladder expands until it’s full and then signals your brain that it’s time to urinate, communicating through the pelvic nerves. This creates the urge to urinate for most people. With interstitial cystitis, these signals get mixed up — you feel the need to urinate more often and with smaller volumes of urine than most people. Interstitial cystitis can have a long-lasting impact on quality of life. Although there’s no cure, medications and other therapies may offer relief [Autoimmune Association].


Autoimmune diseases can be classified according to several criteria. One of them is the location of the autoimmune attack. Based on this criterion, autoimmune diseases are distinguished into systemic or organ-specific. Although artificial, this classification scheme is useful for orienting patients and primary care physicians to the appropriate specialist [https://pathology.jhu.edu/autoimmune/classification].

SYSTEMIC: Affects Many Organs

ORGAN-SPECIFIC: Affects 1 Main Organ

Systemic autoimmune diseases are those where the autoantigens are found in almost any type of cell in the body, for example the DNA – protein complexes. Consequently, the pathological damage involves many different organs and tissues. Typical systemic autoimmune diseases are rheumatoid arthritissystemic lupus erythematosusscleroderma, and dermatomyositis. These diseases are managed by rheumatologists and, in fact, the terms “systemic autoimmune disease” and “rheumatic autoimmune diseases” are often used interchangeably.

Organ-specific autoimmune diseases are those where a particular organ or tissue is preferentially targeted by the patient’s immune system. For example, the thyroid gland in patients with Graves disease, the beta cells of the endocrine pancreas in patients with type 1 diabetes, or the skin in patients with vitiligo.

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