When IBS and Bladder Problems Happen at the Same Time

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Are dealing with double trouble? Bowel and bladder problems at the same time? Frequent urination alongside your IBS? You may find some small comfort in learning that you are not alone - many people experience bladder problems and IBS at the same time. Let's take a look at the overlap between the two and what might be the underlying reasons behind your double distress.

Bladder Symptoms and IBS

There is a surprising overlap between bowel and bladder problems.

Some researchers have estimated that urinary symptoms may be experienced as many as 50 percent of people who have IBS. These symptoms include:

There is also some evidence that women who suffer from IBS also may be more likely to experience urinary incontinence than women who do not have IBS.

Why the Overlap?

Researchers do not know for sure why people who have IBS are at higher risk for urinary problems and vice versa. Their work into underlying factors may eventually lead to a better understanding of all of the disorders at play. Certainly, the proximity of the organs responsible for elimination suggests that there is interaction among the various nerves and muscles of each system. Possible factors creating bowel and bladder symptoms include inflammation and central nervous system dysfunction.

Having a better understanding of the underlying causes can lead to more effective treatments, offering well-needed symptom relief.

It may be heartening to know that researchers have found some evidence that improving the functioning of one of the two systems can lead to an improvement in the functioning of the other.

Urinary Conditions that May Co-Exist with IBS

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 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. Click here to learn more about interstitial cystitis...
  • Pelvic Floor Dysfunction:
    Pelvic floor dysfunction is a condition in which the muscles found within the pelvis that are responsible for coordinating urination and defecation do not work as they should. Having such a dysfunction might well explain why a person would suffer bowel and bladder symptoms simultaneously. If you are diagnosed with pelvic floor dysfunction, you will find that there are a variety of treatment options available, depending on the severity of your condition. Click here to learn more about pelvic floor dysfunction...

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.

Your doctor will tailor your treatment plan according to which bladder problem you are experiencing. If your double 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.


Guo, Y., et. al. "Lower urinary tract symptoms in women with irritable bowel syndrome" International Journal of Urology 2010 17:175-181.

Malykhina, A., et. al. "Do the urinary bladder and large bowel interact, in sickness or in health?" Neurourology Urodynamics 2012 31:352-358.

Mayer, E. & Buffington, C. "Interstitial Cystitis and Related Pain Syndromes: Overlap of Bladder and Bowel Dysfunction". UCLA Center for Neurobiology of Stress. Fact Sheet Accessed May 22, 2011.

Pezzone, M. "Chronic Pelvic Pain and the Overlap of Chronic Pelvic Pain Disorders" International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Fact Sheet Accessed May 22, 2011.

Wang, J. et. al. "Pelvic floor disorders and quality of life in women with self-reported irritable bowel syndrome" Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2010 31:424-431.

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