Can Lyme Disease Affect the Bladder?
In 2005, I was diagnosed with an inflammatory bladder condition called interstitial cystitis (IC). My IC symptoms included intense bladder pain, pelvic pain, and frequent, constant, strong urges to urinate. Certain foods and drinks also irritated my bladder, forcing me to make drastic dietary changes. While women are more likely to be diagnosed with IC, it also impacts men and children. Like Lyme disease, there is no foolproof test to diagnose IC, and many patients take an average of five to seven years to be correctly diagnosed.
Initially, my symptoms were severe, and I would often urinate 40 or more times within a 24-hour period. In fact, there were nights that I slept on the cold, bathroom floor because it was easier than crawling in and out of bed several times. In addition, the pain was brutal, and I became frustrated because the traditional, somewhat invasive treatments for IC provided no relief for my condition. Since I needed to remain close to a restroom at all times, it became difficult for me to perform my job as a home health, occupational therapist, and my quality of life was quickly slipping away. I spent every free moment seeking alternative options to reduce my persistent discomfort.
Before the onset of my IC symptoms, I had back and nerve pain. However, I never suspected that I had contracted Lyme disease at some point in my life, and that this could be the cause of the IC. Can Lyme disease affect the bladder? The answer seems to be, yes.
I was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2012. I was unaware that this illness could weave together my seemingly random set of symptoms. I later learned that many Lyme patients struggle with IC; tick-borne infections can hide in tissues throughout the body (including the bladder) and remain undetected for years by a standard urinalysis.
Out of desperation, I scoured the Internet looking for vitamins and supplements to help my ongoing bladder problems, and I discovered an old blog by a woman who also had IC. As a result of taking a supplement called quercetin for a few months, the blogger noted significant improvements in her bladder symptoms when all else had failed. In the hopes of finding some reprieve, I managed to track down a bottle of quercetin from a local health food store. I hoped and prayed it would provide me with similar benefits as the lady in the article.
After three months of taking quercetin, I began to notice that my bladder was less reactive to foods and drinks. Gradually, around the six-month mark, I saw a decrease in urinary frequency and pain. Although I wasn’t cured by taking quercetin, it did help to lessen my day-to-day suffering. These days, I continue to use quercetin to battle some lingering IC symptoms. While quercetin is most known for the role it plays in reducing bladder irritation, there are numerous other health benefits associated with this impressive antioxidant — benefits that I’ve used throughout my Lyme disease treatment as well.
Managing IC and Lyme Disease Symptoms with Natural Therapies
When people are treated for their various tick-borne infections, most experience at least some improvements in their IC symptoms. Also, I am pleased to see prominent Lyme physicians recommending natural therapies like quercetin as part of their Lyme protocols to help their patients affected by bladder inflammation.
More About Quercetin
- Quercetin is a flavonoid–a plant pigment that gives flowers, fruits, and vegetables their colors.
- It’s a powerful antioxidant and a potent free-radical scavenger, which means that it neutralizes harmful substances that cause damage or death to our cells. Antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries, kale, apples, and peppers are high in naturally occurring quercetin.
- It’s a natural antiviral and antimicrobial agent, which is an asset to any herbal antimicrobial protocol .
- Quercetin reduces some of the body’s strongest inflammatory chemicals like cytokines and prostaglandins. These chemicals can trigger a cascade of uncomfortable Lyme disease symptoms for patients.
- By lowering inflammation, it helps ease aches, pains, and Herxheimer reactions .
- It can also decrease the symptoms of prostatitis–the result of an infection or chronic inflammation of the prostate gland in men.
- Quercetin is a natural antihistamine. In various studies, it’s been shown to be as effective as some over-the-counter antihistamines without the side effects like sedation and dry eyes.
- The histamine-lowering properties of quercetin can also combat the discomfort of hives, rashes, or other skin conditions.
- The antioxidant profile of quercetin supports heart health and improves circulation.
- Flavonoids, like quercetin, may lift Lyme-related brain fog  due to their ability to improve blood flow to the brain.
More Quercetin-Rich Foods
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In addition to the foods mentioned above, blackberries, tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables, spinach, red onions, and olive oil are rich, natural sources of this super antioxidant.
Potential Side Effects of Quercetin for Lyme disease Patients
- If you are pregnant, don’t take quercetin without first discussing it with your doctor.
- Quercetin is generally well-tolerated. However, this supplement may interfere with some antibiotics. Please consult with your healthcare provider before adding it to your Lyme treatment.
- Quercetin may boost the effectiveness of some blood thinners increasing your risk of bleeding. Please talk with your doctor if you are already on blood-thinners or require surgery.
- Some people may experience headaches or digestive upset . If this occurs, you may need to take it with food, lower the dose, or discontinue it altogether.
Since there is no standardized dose at this time, speak with your physician about proper dosing instructions for your particular condition.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on September 28, 2016 and was updated on August 29, 2019.
Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist and certified Pilates instructor whose life was transformed by Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome and interstitial cystitis. She is creator of the DVD, New Dawn Pilates : pilates-inspired exercises adapted for people with pelvic pain. Jenny is a health and wellness advocate and blogger who writes about her journey on The Lyme Road  as she continues to pursue her personal healing with the support of her husband and two rescue pups. You can find her on Instagram: @jenny_buttaccio  or Twitter: @jennybuttaccio 
Balch, J.F., & Stengler, M. (2004). Prescription for Natural Cures. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Quercetin. (2015, October 19). Retrieved from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/quercetin 
John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Flavonoids. (n.d). Retrieved from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=119