Studies suggest there may be a link between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and an overactive bladder. Doctors can treat both conditions using medications and lifestyle changes.

Overactive bladder is the term that some people use for urinary incontinence. However, an overactive bladder may also include urgent and frequent urination without incontinence. Some evidence suggests that overactive bladder is more common in people with IBS.

This article explores IBS and its symptoms and causes. It also explores the evidence suggesting a link between IBS and overactive bladder and describes the treatments doctors recommend for each condition. Finally, it answers some common questions about IBS and overactive bladder.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDKD) states that IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder that causes digestive symptoms. These may include changes in bowel movements, pain, and bloating.

Many people with IBS have regular bowel movements on some days and abnormal bowel movements on other days. A doctor may diagnose IBS using the Rome IV criteria.

According to these criteria, a person has IBS if they have experienced recurrent abdominal pain, on average, at least 4 days a month over at least 2 months, associated with two or more of the following points:

  • a change in the appearance of stool
  • related to defecation
  • a change in the frequency of stool

The NIDDKD explains that there are different types of IBS with related symptoms:

  • IBS with constipation (IBS-C): With this type, a person has unusual bowel movements in which more than a quarter of the stool is hard or lumpy, and less than a quarter of the stool is loose or watery.
  • IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D): This type describes abnormal bowel movements in which more than a quarter of the stool is loose or watery, and less than a quarter of the stool is hard or lumpy.
  • IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M): A person has unusual bowel movements in which more than a quarter of their stools are hard or lumpy, and more than a quarter of their stools are loose and watery.

People may also experience a feeling that they have not finished a bowel movement, bloating, or mucus in their stool. Females with IBS may have more symptoms during menstruation.

The NIDDKD further explains that IBS has links with gut-brain interactions. The digestive organs and brain are connected and work together. As a result, stressful life events, depression, and anxiety are common in people with IBS, and experts believe they play a role in the condition developing.

Additionally, research suggests that other contributing factors may include:

IBS may last a long time, and symptoms may come and go. A person should talk with a healthcare professional if they think they may have IBS. A doctor can provide an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

The International Continence Society defines overactive bladder syndrome as the following symptoms with or without incontinence:

Research from 2021 and 2015 suggests people with IBS may have an increased risk of an overactive bladder.

However, the 2015 review explains that IBS may have links with general urinary tract symptoms and that reasons for possible links between the two conditions remain unclear.

Additionally, the 2015 review suggests that people with IBS may tend to overinterpret sensations, which could cause them to overreport bladder problems in studies.

It is important to note that some research suggests no link between the two conditions. For example, a 2017 survey among 609 people with IBS showed no association with overactive bladder. However, this study was not performed in a controlled clinical setting. This means its results may not accurately represent the symptoms of IBS.

Scientists need to conduct more research to determine the links between the two conditions and their causes.

The NIDDKD advises that constipation (a symptom of IBS) can worsen urinary tract health and lead to bladder management problems. Because of this, doctors may recommend a person with IBS-C and overactive bladder drinks more fluids and eats more fiber. They may also prescribe medication to help bowel movements.

IBS treatment

The NIDDKD advises that doctors treat IBS by recommending the following lifestyle changes:

Overactive bladder treatment

According to a 2018 review, doctors treat overactive bladder using drugs and lifestyle changes. Treatment may include:

Doctors may recommend Botox injections into the bladder muscle or neuromodulation (nerve stimulation) if a person’s bladder does not respond to anticholinergic medications.

Below are some of the most common questions and answers about IBS and the bladder.

Why does IBS affect the bladder?

Studies suggest that overactive bladder and urinary conditions are more common in people with IBS. The reasons are unclear, though it may be due to the nervous system causing oversensitivity.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

Symptoms may include pain and changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea and constipation. Additionally, a person may experience abdominal bloating, mucus in the stool, or a feeling of an incomplete bowel movement.

Can IBS make someone feel as though they need to pee?

Some research suggests that there may be a link between IBS and an overactive bladder, which may cause someone to feel the need to urinate more often or more urgently.

It is unclear whether IBS causes an overactive bladder. However, evidence suggests there may be a link between the two conditions.

Doctors may treat IBS and overactive bladder with medications and lifestyle changes, including bladder or pelvic floor training, weight management, and dietary changes.

A person should talk with a doctor if they have symptoms of either condition.