Interstitial Cystitis and Ankylosing Spondylitis: Is There A Connection?
Last updated: January 2023
Two weeks ago, I was diagnosed with interstitial cystitis. You know what they say about autoimmune conditions...you can't just have one, and I can attest to that. I already suffer from AS and fibromyalgia, so when I was hit with a third diagnosis, I was at a complete loss. This was all so confusing, and I didn't quite understand how it was happening or what had caused it. I wasted no time and dove headfirst into researching my new diagnosis.
What is interstitial cystitis?
Interstitial cystitis is a chronic condition and is sometimes referred to as painful bladder syndrome. From what I can gather, no one can really pinpoint the cause of IC. Some believe that IC is caused by irritation to the bladder lining or that nerve issues cause confusion between the brain and bladder. Some speculate that the immune system attacks the bladder, and there is a possibility that other inflammatory conditions may be targeting the bladder. I found each of these theories to be interesting, as the bladder and muscles surrounding the bladder are in such close proximity to the areas most affected by AS.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of interstitial cystitis mimic those of a urinary tract infection. These include, but are not limited to, severe pressure and pelvic pain, urinary frequency and urgency, burning with urination, and lower abdominal pain. As you can imagine, this can become confusing when also living with a condition like AS that also causes severe pain in the pelvic region.
For the past several months, I've experienced a variety of symptoms that do not typically align with AS. There was no other explanation, though. I noticed when I tried to go to the bathroom, I had a hard time getting things “going." Sometimes urinating was painful and even burned a little bit, but I didn't think I actually had a UTI. I figured my medications were to blame and did my best to ignore these pesky symptoms.
In mid-October, I was diagnosed with a UTI. I had a urinalysis done, and it was a confirmed infection. As with any infection, I was prescribed a round of antibiotics, and my symptoms seemed to improve within 5 days.
Stress and anxiety attacks
During this same week, I had fallen under a tremendous amount of stress. It had become apparent that I could no longer homeschool my autistic son, and he needed to be back in a classroom. The evening before he was to return back to school, I experienced a massive anxiety attack. That night I went to the bathroom between 40 and 60 times. I was up the entire night in excruciating pain, and I thought for sure the UTI had returned, but 10x worse.
Infection or something more?
That morning I called my doctor, and he had me come in for an evaluation. When I arrived, my heart rate was over 140, and he could tell I was extremely anxious. He said he would go ahead and run another urinalysis and culture. In the meantime, he wanted me to take Klonopin to get my heart rate down. I was honestly a little frustrated because I felt like he was ignoring the infection and only focusing on my anxiety.
A new diagnosis
Two days passed, and I was handling my stress a little better. My symptoms had subsided somewhat, but not completely. I received a call from my doctor that morning. He told me that my urinalysis came back perfect, and I was diagnosed with IC. He told me he believed that the anxiety I was experiencing had caused a nervous reaction causing the IC to “peak.” Is there a connection to AS?
Still searching for answers
I am still very new to this diagnosis, but I am learning more every day. Do I think there is a connection to the AS? Possibly. Do I believe stress triggers my symptoms? For sure. I also think my fibromyalgia could possibly be a contributing factor as well.
Have you ever had to take a leave of absence from work due to your symptoms?
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