Are Bladder Problems Common in People With IBS?

How the Two 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. Learn more about the overlap between the two and what might be the underlying reasons behind your double distress.

Bladder Symptoms and IBS

IBS is is a group of symptoms, including abdominal pain and changes in bowel habit, that occur without causing any underlying damage. 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 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 also some evidence that women who have IBS also 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 percent of people with IBS had concurrent OAB, with women being slightly more affected than men.

It isn't known for sure why people who have IBS are at higher risk for urinary problems and vice versa. Certainly, the proximity of the organs responsible for elimination suggests that there is interaction among the various nerves and muscles of each system.

Other possible reasons for the overlap between bowel and bladder symptoms include shared inflammation or shared central nervous system dysfunction. Having a better understanding of the underlying causes can lead to more effective treatments, offering well-needed symptom relief. Improving the functioning of one of the two systems may lead to an improvement in the functioning of the other.

IBS and Co-Existing Urinary Disorders

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

  • Interstitial Cystitis (IC): Otherwise known as painful bladder syndrome, interstitial cystitis is a condition in which a person experiences frequent urination and chronic pain and discomfort associated with the bladder. Both IC and IBS have been associated with visceral hypersensitivity. In terms of identifying causes to explain an overlap between IC and IBS, researchers have been looking at the role of inflammation, a "cross-sensitization" among the nerves of the gut and bladder, and other possible centralized dysfunction. If you have IC alongside IBS, work with your doctor 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 (PFD): This is another condition that could result in both IBS and frequent urination. In PFD, the muscles found in the pelvis that is responsible for coordinating urination and defecation do not work as they should. Having such a dysfunction might well explain why a person would experience bowel and bladder symptoms simultaneously. If you are diagnosed with pelvic floor dysfunction, speak with your doctor about treatment options, as a wide variety of options are available depending on the severity of your symptoms. 
  • Chronic Prostatitis/Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome: Some men may find themselves with this chronic form of prostatitis alongside IBS. Chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CP/CPPS) results in a variety of symptoms, including urinary pain, urinary urgency, and incontinence. There are medications available for easing the symptoms of CP/CPPS, so be sure to work with your doctor on a treatment plan.
  • Urge Incontinence: This urinary disorder results in symptoms of urinary urgency and involuntary urine passage. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research regarding this overlap. Urge incontinence requires a complete medical workup, as 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 doctor. Because of old-school stigma regarding "bathroom symptoms" many people are too shy to discuss their issues with their doctors.

Don't be embarrassed. Elimination is a normal part of being human, as your doctor well knows. Your doctor will help to come up with a diagnosis and provide you with a plan to address each problem.

If your family doctor is unable to offered a diagnosis, ask for a referral to either a urologist (who treats urinary disorders in men and women), urogynecologist (who specialize in pelvic floor disorders in women), or neurologist who specializes in diseases of the urinary tract.

Based on the results of the diagnosis, the doctor will tailor your treatment plan according to which bladder problem you are experiencing. If your dual problem appears to be related to pelvic floor dysfunction, your doctor 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). Another option is the use of a medication that has anticholinergic effects.

As you can there are a variety of different things that can be tried to bring you symptom relief, so be sure to tell your doctor what you are dealing with in terms of your "bathroom issues."

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