TAMPA (FOX 13) - For 14 months, Doris Hunsucker had constant pain.
"At its worst, it was like having a kidney stone. It felt like something burning, like a hot poker in my urethra," she recalled. "When people have the problem of the burning sensation when they urinate, it felt like that all the time."
Her symptoms were similar to a urinary tract infection. The pain was so bad, it woke her from her sleep.
Over the course of that year, she saw two primary care doctors, and five specialists, including two urologists, two neurologists and a gynecologist. They prescribed hormonal creams, anti-viral, anti-seizure, and rheumatoid arthritis drugs. Nothing stopped her pain.
Doris was giving up hope. "I was to the point that I didn't' know if I could ever feel normal again."
Then her primary care doctor sent her to one more urologist. Instead of writing a prescription, he recommended an online aloe vera supplement.
"For patients who we treat for bladder pain and bladder disorders, I'll tell you it's usually our first-line agent and its response rate is well over 60 to 70 percent," explained Dr. Raviendar Bukkapatnam, the chief of urology at Tampa General Hospital.
Dr. Bukkapatnam says, for patients like Doris, with interstitial cystitis, aloe is working better than other drugs on the market.
Studies show aloe can help bladder patients but they don't know exactly why.
"It has various cancer-fighting properties," Dr. Bukkapatnam continued. "It has various hypoglycemic properties so it can help with diabetes. It has significant anti-inflammatory properties."
He believes a sugar called d-mannose may play a role. "It is thought that it somehow mediates or modulates the ability of bacteria to be able to grab onto the walls of the urinary tract and go upwards."
Two and a half weeks after starting the aloe supplement, Doris got relief. She's now been taking it for three years.
"I don't have to worry about the pain coming -- the pain coming so bad that I think I'm going to pass out or something -- I just don't have to worry about that anymore because I take those pills," she said.
Insurance doesn't cover the supplement and it costs about $68 a month. Doris says she doesn't mind,
"I don't care if it's $600 a month, I will use it. There's no way I'm stopping taking it. It's working."
Dr. Bukkapatnam says interstitial cystitis can also happen in men. It may be mistaken for prostate problems. He says, along with helping reduce pain, the aloe supplements can also help with feelings of frequency and urgency.
Aloe can drop blood sugar levels, and some experts say there is evidence of carcinogenicity in unpurified, whole leaf aloe in experimental animals. As always, you need to weigh potential risks and benefits of any drug or supplement.