How can IBS affect the bladder? Let me count the ways. But before we do that, we need to understand why there is such a strong connection.
The Connection Between the Bladder and the Bowel
The digestive system and the bladder are in direct contact with each other. When one is affected it can trigger a response in the other area.
Do you ever notice that after urinating you may need to have a bowel movement? Or that when you are done with a bowel movement you often soon need to urinate?
When your bladder is full, it is taking up space in your abdomen. Another way of saying this is that it is putting pressure on your colon. And when your colon is full, it is putting pressure on your bladder.
When either one is emptied, that pressure is relieved. If the bladder is emptied, then stool may now move more freely through your colon, thus leading to a bowel movement. And if your colon is full, then it is putting pressure on your bladder, making you want to urinate.
Can IBS Cause An Overactive Bladder or Urinary Problems?
There are different forms of IBS that involve different symptoms. Some involve constipation, and some involve diarrhea. IBS with constipation is often called IBS-C.
When you have IBS-C, by definition you have a full colon because you are constipated. Therefore your colon is putting pressure on your bladder, which can cause urinary symptoms such as having to urinate more frequently than usual.
However, the close proximity of the bladder and colon can lead to problems other than just pressure from fullness in one pushing on the other.
When you have IBS with diarrhea, known as IBS-D, you have a very fast-acting colon. We know this because by definition diarrhea is a stool that is moving very quickly through your colon.
In this case, the colon may be spasming or cramping. This spasming or cramping in the colon can physically impact the bladder, causing it to trigger the feeling that you have to urinate, thus leading to an overactive bladder. Studies have shown that there is a strong link between IBS and an overactive bladder.
Can IBS Cause Urinary Incontinence?
In the same way that IBS can cause an overactive bladder, it can also cause urinary incontinence. All of this pressure and irritation directed at the bladder may result in bladder function that you can no longer control.
Note that IBS can cause an overactive bladder or urinary incontinence even if you don’t have constipation or diarrhea. Many cases of IBS involve neither diarrhea nor constipation but only involve cramping.
IBS cramping can irritate the bladder leading to more frequent urination, or it can cause bladder pain when pooping, or bladder aches after urination. This is often diagnosed as interstitial cystitis.
To learn more about IBS, visit our page on understanding IBS.
Female vs Male IBS Urinary Symptoms
IBS urinary symptoms can be very similar between men and women, although in men IBS may also impact the prostate. You can learn more about this by reading our article on IBS and Prostate Problems.
In women, IBS has more potential to contribute to urinary tract infections (UTIs). This is due to the close proximity of the anatomy of the female urethra and the anus.
If you have IBS-D, for example, then you may have a lot more bowel movements than normal and possibly accidents. This increases the chance that the urethra is exposed to bacteria from the colon, which increases your risk of getting a UTI.
IBS is also related to interstitial cystitis, which involves pain in the bladder, and is primarily found in women. An article in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology found a strong link in nervous system dysfunction between IBS and interstitial cystitis.
Now you know how IBS can affect the bladder. The good news is that IBS can be solved, and therefore there is hope for your bladder and urinary tract too! You can learn a lot more about how this is done by visiting this link.
Is IBS affecting your quality of life and does it affect your bladder?
Dr. Wangen is the founder and medical director of the IBS Treatment Center, the award winning author of two books, and a nationally recognized speaker on digestive disorders. He has been on ABC, NBC, and Fox as well as public radio, and was named one of Seattle’s Top Doctors by Seattle Magazine.