Interstitial cystitis is a chronic bladder condition, and its exact cause remains unknown.

Interstitial Cystitis and Lyme Disease

Interstitial Cystitis and Lyme Disease: What’s the Connection?

Interstitial cystitis (IC), also known as painful bladder syndrome, is a chronic condition that causes individuals to experience constant bladder pain, urinary frequency, and urgency. The symptoms of IC can be severely debilitating and often mirror those of a urinary tract infection, except that the discomfort does not subside with antibiotics.

Interestingly, research has shown that there may be a connection between interstitial cystitis and Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. In this article, we’ll delve into the relationship between these two conditions, exploring the symptoms, potential causes, and treatment approaches.

Interstitial Cystitis: Symptoms and Prevalence

Interstitial cystitis affects millions of people worldwide, with females being more prone to the condition than males. The symptoms of IC can vary greatly among individuals in terms of severity and frequency. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Urinary frequency and urgency
  • Nocturia (severe urinary urgency at nighttime)
  • Bladder pain with a full bladder
  • Difficulty emptying the bladder
  • Pain in the perineum and urethra
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Low back pain or leg pain
  • Vulvar/vaginal pain (female)
  • Testicular pain (male)
  • Painful sex
  • Worsening bladder pain when certain food or drinks are consumed

Interstitial Cystitis: Causes

Interstitial cystitis is a chronic bladder condition, and its exact cause remains unknown. However, several factors have been proposed as potential contributors to the development of IC, including:

  • Inflammation and damage to the bladder lining
  • Autoimmune reactions
  • Infections, including bacterial and viral infections
  • Neurological dysfunction

The Connection Between Interstitial Cystitis and Lyme Disease

Dr. Rick Sponaugle, an integrative physician that treats Lyme disease, mold toxicity, and environmental disease at his clinic Sponaugle Wellness Institute in Oldsmar, FL, has observed a link between patients with Lyme disease and interstitial cystitis. After treating thousands of patients for Lyme disease and chronic disease, he has noticed that those with Lyme disease often suffer from bladder pain and symptoms consistent with IC.

Research has also found that the Borrelia burgdorferi spirochete has been detected in bladder biopsies and urine samples of individuals diagnosed with Lyme disease. Furthermore, urological symptoms associated with Lyme disease resemble interstitial cystitis, including frequency, urgency, and nocturia. This symptomatic overlap suggests that there could be a microbial connection between the two conditions.

Possible Causes of Bladder Symptoms in Lyme Disease Patients

There are several possible explanations for the bladder symptoms experienced by Lyme disease patients:

  1. Borrelia burgdorferi infection in the bladder: The Lyme disease-causing bacterium has been found both in bladder biopsies and the urine of patients with Lyme disease. Inflammation caused by the infection could potentially lead to interstitial cystitis-like symptoms.
  2. Lyme co-infections: Co-infections, such as Bartonella, Mycoplasma, and Ureaplasma, are common in Lyme disease patients and can also cause urinary symptoms.
  3. Immune system dysfunction: Lyme disease can cause chronic immune dysfunction, which may contribute to the development of interstitial cystitis and other chronic conditions.
  4. Neurological dysfunction: Lyme disease can affect the nervous system, leading to neurological dysfunction that may contribute to bladder symptoms.

Diagnosis Challenges

Both interstitial cystitis and Lyme disease are challenging to diagnose, as they share similar symptoms and can often be mistaken for other conditions. Diagnosis of interstitial cystitis is typically based on excluding other possible causes of bladder symptoms. In contrast, Lyme disease diagnosis relies on clinical evaluation, blood tests, and, in some cases, additional tests such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to detect Borrelia burgdorferi DNA.

The Role of Mycoplasma and Ureaplasma

Mycoplasma and Ureaplasma are two types of bacteria that are often overlooked in the context of Lyme disease and interstitial cystitis. These bacteria are the smallest of all bacteria and are obligate intracellular microbes, meaning they must live inside the cells of a host to survive. They typically infect the linings of the body, including the lungs, intestines, joints, and urinary tract.

Mycoplasma and Ureaplasma are particularly difficult to culture, and routine testing for these bacteria was not available until relatively recently. However, with the advent of DNA testing, healthcare providers can now detect these microbes more reliably. The presence of these bacteria in the urinary tracts of individuals without symptoms has led some experts to consider them as part of normal flora.

Immune System Dysfunction: The Key to Understanding the Connection

The connection between interstitial cystitis and Lyme disease can be better understood by examining the role of the immune system. When the immune system is functioning optimally, individuals can harbor various microbes, including Mycoplasma and Ureaplasma, without experiencing symptoms. However, when a perfect storm of factors leads to the disruption of immune system functions, these harmful microbes can multiply and cause chronic illness.

Therefore, the solution to reducing symptoms and improving the quality of life for those suffering from interstitial cystitis and Lyme disease must go beyond simply targeting the microbes themselves. Restoring immune system function to optimal levels is crucial in overcoming these illnesses.

Conventional Treatment Approaches to Interstitial Cystitis

The conventional treatment for interstitial cystitis includes a variety of medications, such as over-the-counter pain relievers, tricyclic antidepressants, and antihistamines. Additionally, bladder instillations, pelvic floor physical therapy, and monitoring one’s diet for potential triggers are common approaches. Unfortunately, these treatments often provide limited relief and may not address the underlying immune system dysfunction that contributes to the development of IC and Lyme disease.

Antibiotics and Interstitial Cystitis

Antibiotics are not considered a treatment for interstitial cystitis, and the condition rarely improves as a result of taking them. Moreover, if the IC symptoms are due to Mycoplasma and Ureaplasma, these bacteria respond poorly to synthetic antibiotics. This is because they live inside cells, grow very slowly, and occur in low concentrations in tissues. Additionally, these bacteria lack a typical cell wall, which is the target of many antibiotics.

Natural Remedies and Relief for Interstitial Cystitis and Lyme Disease

In addition to conventional treatments, various natural remedies can help relieve the symptoms of interstitial cystitis and Lyme disease. These natural approaches can also target the underlying immune system dysfunction and help control the microbes responsible for these conditions.


Cannabidiol oil (CBD) from hemp can help ease pain associated with interstitial cystitis and Lyme disease. CBD works by blocking pain-conducting nerve impulses and reducing inflammation to support healing. Most people benefit from 15-30 mg of CBD, taken one to three times a day.

Topical Essential Oils

Applying essential oils to the pubic area can provide symptomatic relief for individuals with interstitial cystitis. A recommended formula includes tea tree oil and frankincense oil mixed in a 1:4 ratio with a carrier oil, such as jojoba or grapeseed oil. Sandalwood is also an effective essential oil for bladder and urethral pain.


Individuals with interstitial cystitis may benefit from herbs with natural antihistamine properties, such as quercetin. Quercetin can be taken in supplement form or found in bladder-friendly foods like broccoli, leafy greens, olive oil, and blueberries.


Understanding the connection between interstitial cystitis and Lyme disease is crucial for developing effective treatment strategies. By focusing on restoring immune system function and using a combination of conventional and natural remedies, individuals suffering from these conditions can experience relief and improved quality of life. Remember that finding the right treatment approach is often a process of trial and error. Still, a comprehensive plan that includes herbal therapy, immune system support, and dietary modifications can help overcome the challenges posed by interstitial cystitis and Lyme disease.

Medical Director at Sponaugle Wellness Institute | 1-877-737-1959 | Meet Dr. Sponaugle | + posts
Dr. Rick Sponaugle, MD, is a licensed medical doctor in Florida, integrative physician, and board-certified anesthesiologist. With an emphasis on Environmental Medicine, Dr. Sponaugle specializes in treating brain and neurological disorders derived from Mold Toxicity, Industrial Toxicity, Gut Toxicity, Neurological Lyme disease, and five additional stealth infections that attack the Brain and Neurological system of most patients. Our Medical Director, Rick Sponaugle, MD, is an integrative physician who attempts to prioritize treatment through quality forensic medicine. Performing an analysis of 400 numerical bio-markers in his initial consultation, Dr. Sponaugle's goal is to diagnose and treat the underlying cause of your multiple symptoms.
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