CUMBERLAND HEAD - The month of October is Interstitial Cystitis Awareness Month, but for people like Wendy Farrell, there doesn't have to be a month on the calendar to be aware of what can be a very painful urinary bladder disease.
Farrell was been living with interstitial cystitis, commonly referred to as IC, for more than a decade. However, it wasn't until about two years ago her condition was formally diagnosed.
"The doctors I saw didn't know what it was," said the 31-year-old Farrell. "A lot of times they thought it was a urinary tract infection, but there was no sign of infection."
It wasn't until consulting with a urologist in Williston, Vt., and undergoing a series of tests that Farrell was diagnosed with IC, she said.
"What they do is put you [under anesthesia] and fill your bladder and see how the inside of it looks when it is stretched," explained Farrell. "People with IC have a lot of ulcers or red marks inside their bladder."
Though many of the signs of IC appear the same and are marked with frequent and painful urination, some experience varying degrees of pain in the bladder or pelvic region. Pain typically increases during urination and sexual intercourse, making it very difficult for someone with IC to enjoy a normal life.
"It's different for everybody," Farrell said of the level of pain. "But, for me, it's living every day with constant pressure and pain. It's uncomfortable."
"Thankfully, I have a great husband who is very understanding and there for me for everything," she added.
Many things affect the level of pain she feels, said Farrell.
"Food affects it. Stress effects it," she said. "And, the best way to describe it, so other people could understand it, is that it feels like I have razor blades inside that are moving around as I'm walking or moving."
According to the Interstitial Cystitis Association, IC is a condition found predominantly in women, with research showing up to 12 percent of women may have early symptoms of IC.
Although a staggering number, Farrell believes not many know of the condition which, as she states "can greatly impact your life."
"It's extremely lacking," she said of awareness of IC. "There's not much awareness about it. When I talk about it, people ask me, 'What's that?' They've just never heard about it."
However, through on-line support groups and organizations like the Interstitial Cystitis Association and the Interstitial Cystitis Network, awareness is growing, said Farrell. As awareness grows, hopefully more can be done for people with IC beyond the only real effective treatment, which is pain management, she said.
"I take 17 pills a day to help with the pain," said Farrell. "It makes it very difficult because there are days where I'm deciding which is more important, trying to work through the day or be home with pain medicine."
The only other procedure that helps - albeit in a small and brief way - is hydrodistention of the bladder. The process, mainly used for examining the bladder, involves using a common local anesthetic such as lidocaine to coat the bladder in order to stretch it without causing the patient pain. The anesthetic provides temporary relief for the patient, which, in Farrell's case, has lasted as long as a few weeks.
However, the temporary positive effects of hydrodistention are just that - temporary.
"Some people go into remission and they don't even know why. They're just happy and can enjoy it," said Farrell, who is hoping to one day be that lucky and to have her pain subside. "I've just been living with this pain for so long."
For more information about IC, visit the Interstitial Cystitis Association Web site at www.ichelp.org or the Interstitial Cystitis Network at www.ic-network.com. If you experience any of the symptoms of IC, Farrell suggests you consult a physician immediately.
"It took me a long time to get diagnosed," she said. "No one should go through this, especially not knowing what it is."