Are Bladder Problems Common in People With IBS?

How the Disorders May Be Linked

If you are experiencing bladder problems, such as frequent urination, in addition to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you are not alone. There is an overlap between bladder symptoms and IBS, and certain treatment strategies can help provide relief.

IBS and Bladder-Related Symptoms

Laura Porter / Verywell

Bladder Symptoms and IBS

IBS is a group of symptoms, including abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits, that occur without damage to the gastrointestinal (GI) system. Many of the same triggers that instigate IBS, including stress and infection, are believed to play a role in the co-occurrence of urinary problems.

The bladder symptoms often experienced by people with IBS include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Incomplete emptying of the bladder
  • Nocturia (need to get out of bed to urinate)
  • Urinary urgency

There is some evidence that women who have IBS may be more likely to experience urinary incontinence and overactive bladder (OAB) than women who do not have IBS.

A 2012 study from Asahikawa Medical University in Japan reported that 33.3% of people who had IBS had concurrent OAB, with women being affected slightly more frequntly than men.

It isn't known for sure why people who have IBS are at higher risk for urinary problems and vice versa. Sometimes improving the function of one of the two systems may lead to an improvement in the functioning of the other.

The proximity of the organs responsible for elimination suggests that there could be an interaction among some of the nerves and muscles of each system.

Other possible reasons for the overlap between bowel and bladder symptoms include inflammation in the region of the organs that mediate urination and defecation or nervous system impairment affecting the whole region.

IBS and Co-Existing Urinary Disorders

The following health conditions may affect the functioning of the bladder and/or the bowel.

Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial cystitis (IC), otherwise known as painful bladder syndrome, is a condition that causes frequent urination and chronic pain and discomfort associated with the bladder. Both IC and IBS have been associated with visceral hypersensitivity.

Researchers have proposed a role for inflammation, "cross-sensitization" among the nerves of the gut and bladder, and other possible centralized dysfunction as possible causes of the overlap between IC and IBS.

If you have IC alongside IBS, work with your healthcare provider on a treatment plan that addresses both conditions. This may include medication, diet changes, and treatments such as physical therapy or biofeedback.

Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

Pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) is another condition that could result in both IBS and frequent urination. In PFD, the muscles in the pelvis that are responsible for coordinating urination and defecation do not work as they should. This dysfunction might explain why you would experience bowel and bladder symptoms simultaneously.

PFD is common enough in people with IBS that in 2021, the American College of Gastroenterology's new IBS guidelines recommended testing for pelvic floor dysfunction in people with IBS and possible symptoms of PFD, or whose constipation doesn't respond to standard treatments.

If you're diagnosed with PFD, speak with your healthcare provider about your treatment options—a variety of treatments are available.

Chronic Prostatitis

Chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CP/CPPS) is a chronic form of prostatitis some males can experience alongside IBS. CP/CPPS results in a variety of symptoms, including urinary pain, urinary urgency, and incontinence.

Your healthcare provider can prescribe medication to ease the symptoms of CP/CPPS.

Urge Incontinence

Urge incontinence is a urinary disorder that results in symptoms of urinary urgency and involuntary urine passage. A variety of different health conditions may be at the root of symptoms. 

What to Do If You Have Both

The most important thing to do if you are experiencing both bowel and bladder symptoms is to make sure to bring both to the attention of your healthcare provider. Because of stigma regarding "bathroom symptoms," many people are too shy to discuss their issues with their healthcare providers.

Don't be embarrassed. Elimination is a normal part of being human, as your healthcare provider well knows. Your healthcare provider will begin the diagnostic process and will provide you with a plan to manage each problem.

You should talk to your family healthcare provider about your symptoms. They may prescribe treatment or order diagnostic tests. Depending on your condition, you might also get a referral to a urologist, urogynecologist, or neurologist.

Based on the results of your diagnosis, your healthcare provider will tailor your treatment plan according to which bladder problem you are experiencing. For example, if your dual problem appears to be related to pelvic floor dysfunction, your healthcare provider may recommend physical therapy or biofeedback.

If your symptoms appear to be more related to visceral hypersensitivity, they may recommend a medication that targets the nervous system (in particular the neurotransmitter serotonin) or a medication that has anticholinergic effects.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can bowel problems affect the bladder?

    It's possible. Muscles and nerves that control the bowel can affect the muscles and nerves that control the bladder. Stool in the colon can also put pressure on the bladder, causing it to contract when it shouldn't.

  • What are the symptoms of IBS in women?

    In addition to bowel-related symptoms, women who have IBS are more likely to experience symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse, urinary urgency, and sexual dysfunction. There's also evidence that IBS symptoms tend to get worse at certain times during the menstrual cycle.

IBS Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare provider's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  6. Bharadwaj S, Barber M, Graff L, Shen B. Symptomatology of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease during the menstrual cycleGastroenterol Rep (Oxf). 2015;3(3):185-193. doi:10.1093/gastro/gov010

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