(By Jill Osborne) The long awaited new clinical guidelines for the treatment of interstitial cystitis (aka bladder pain syndrome) were released by the American Urology Association (AUA) this month, offering what may be the most comprehensive clinical care article written to date in the USA. Solidly written, it offers new insight into diagnostic testing as well as a new, six stage IC treatment algorithm that can be used by physicians and patients as you consider your treatment and pain management plans.
What is an AUA Guideline?
With its mission of improving the knowledge of urologists around the USA, the AUA occasionally releases documents that assist urologists in the diagnosis and treatment of various urologic diseases. We are thrilled that they devoted almost two years to the creation of a new set of guidelines for interstitial cystitis. They are intended to instruct clinicians and patients how to recognize IC/BPS, make a valid diagnosis and evaluate potential treatments.
Why is it important?
Have you ever had a physician tell you that there were no treatments for IC or a family member who said that IC was a figment of your imagination? How about a physician who refuses to provide pain care? This document provides desperately needed education for medical care providers, patients, family members and the community at large.
Who drafted it?
In 2008, the American Urology Association convened a diverse panel of more than a dozen IC researchers and medical care providers to draft the guidelines. The effort was led by panel chairman Phil Hanno MD (Univ. of PA). An additional 84 peer reviewers reviewed the final document before it was approved by the AUA Board of Directors in January 2011. None of the participants were compensated by AUA for their work.
How was it created?
The panel performed a systematic review of IC research studies published from 1983 through July 2009. Using this research “evidence” as well as “clinical principles” and “expert opinions” offered by the panelists, the guidelines consist of 27 statements to guide a patient through diagnosis and treatment.
What’s their definition of IC/BPS?
They chose to use the definition first established by the Society for Urodynamics and Female Urology.
“An unpleasant sensation (pain, pressure, discomfort) perceived to be related to the urinary bladder, associated with lower urinary tract symptoms of more than six weeks duration, in the absence of infection or other identifiable causes.”
Is IC more than just a bladder disease?
Citing several studies which explored the related conditions found in IC patients, the authors explored several theories, one of which is “IC/BPS is a member of a family of hypersensitivity disorders which affects the bladder and other somatic/visceral organs, and has many overlapping symptoms and pathophysiology.” IC could be a primary bladder disorder in some patients and yet, for others, may have occurred as the result of another medical condition. The answer remains elusive.
The guideline emphasizes pain as the hallmark symptom of IC/BPS, particularly pain related to bladder filling. Pain can also occur in the urethra, vulva, vagina, rectum and/or throughout the pelvis. Urinary frequency is found in 92% of patients with IC/BPS.
Urgency is an often debated symptom because it is the primary symptom of overactive bladder, a condition often confused with IC. Yet, the authors make a critical distinction. Patients with IC experience urgency and then rush to the restroom to avoid or reduce pain whereas patients with OAB experience urgency and rush to the restroom to avoid having an accident or becoming incontinent.
Diagnosis – Hydrodistentions No Longer The Standard
The authors urge clinicians to perform a thorough history and physical examination of the patient. Symptoms should be present at least six weeks in the absence of infection for a diagnosis to be made. A physical examination of the pelvis should be conducted for both men and women and “The pelvic floor should be palpated for locations of tenderness and trigger points.”
Several conditions should be ruled out, including bladder infection, bladder stones, vaginitis, prostatitis and, in patients with a history of smoking, bladder cancer. Additional testing, however, should be weighed with respect to their potential risks vs. benefits. They offer “In general, additional tests should be undertaken only if the findings will alter the treatment approach.” Cystoscopy and urodynamics, for example, are to be considered if a diagnosis of IC is not clear. The authors do note that cystoscopy helps to rule out other conditions which can mimic IC symptoms, such as bladder cancer or stones.
The presence of Hunner’s ulcers on the bladder wall will lead to a diagnosis of IC however the finding of glomerulations on the bladder wall during hydrodistention with cystoscopy is often vague, variable and consistent with other bladder conditions, thus the panel suggests that “hydrodistention is not necessary for routine clinical use to establish a diagnosis of IC/BPS.” Hunner’s ulcers are described in an acute phase “as an inflamed, friable, denuded area” or in a more chronic phase “blanched, non-bleeding area.”
The guidelines are extremely proactive when it comes to pain acknowledgement and management. The authors offered “Pain management should be continually assessed for effectiveness because of its importance to quality of life. If pain management is inadequate, then consideration should be given to a multidisciplinary approach and the patient referred appropriately.”
Pain management can include