The Myth: Interstitial Cystitis is a women’s condition.
The Truth: The best prevalence studies in women and men have found that the condition is common in both genders, and the risk may be nearly identical for men and women.
Myth Origin: This myth originates from studies conducted before IC even had a formal definition, and looks to date back to a study from 1949.
Unfortunately this is a self-reinforcing myth; doctors believe IC is a woman’s condition and don’t diagnose it in men. Then, when researchers look at the patients who have been diagnosed, it seems to confirm that only women have the condition!
Debunking the Myth: Population-based studies are considered the gold standard in understanding the prevalence of a condition. In the largest and most recent of these studies, researchers found up to 6.5% of women may have interstitial cystitis, while 4.2% of men met the criteria.
And the ratio may be nearly equal when adding those diagnosed with chronic non-bacterial prostatitis (CP), which many researchers believe to be either the same or closely related to IC. The same studies found that many men with IC symptoms were misdiagnosed with chronic prostatitis; in reality, they either had IC or had both conditions concurrently.
Impact of the Myth: The belief that IC is primarily a women's issue has had far-ranging consequences for the IC community. First, it contributed to the stigma associated with interstitial cystitis. For decades, many in the medical field believed IC to be a mental condition, the result of "masochistic women" punishing themselves. It can be safely assumed this would not have been the case had it been men reporting the pain and urinary symptoms of IC.
This myth can also prevent men from getting a correct IC diagnosis. Doctors are taught that not only is IC rare, it's almost unheard of in men. When they present with IC symptoms, many doctors go to great length to not consider interstitial cystitis; they suspect a prostate infection, sexually-transmitted diseases, drug use, or many other remote possibilities, and IC is rarely considered. Hopefully, as the results of the most recent research are spread through the IC and medical communities, the impact of this myth will lessen. Men will be able to receive a correct IC diagnosis and get the treatment they deserve, while the stigma of IC as a "woman's condition" will dissipate.
Read on to find out the truth about these myths, and feel free to join the online Facebook community Finding Pelvic Sanity for support and resources!
Dr. Nicole Cozean is the founder of PelvicSanity physical therapy, Orange County's premier pelvic floor physical therapy clinic. Nicole was named the 2017 IC Physical Therapist of the Year, was the first PT to serve on the ICA Board of Directors, and is the author of the award-winning book The Interstitial Cystitis Solution (2016). She is an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Chapman University.