Connection Between Irritable Bowel Syndrome & Overactive Bladder

Irritable bowel syndrome and overactive bladder can be closely connected when they occur together. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and overactive bladder (OAB) often occur in women and are characterised by spasm of the lower intestinal tract or colon.

Although IBS had been recognised as a disorder for the past 50 years, it has only recently gained significant attention in the medical community. Individuals with these two disorders often experience distress when they begin to feel symptoms coming on and may be afraid of embarrassing accidents.


A high percentage of individuals with overactive bladder also have disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia. OAB and IBS occur twice as often in women as they do in men and it is thought that hormones play a role in the two disorders. Although many individuals experience mild symptoms and are able to live normal lives, some patients are seriously debilitated by their symptoms.


It is not clearly understood exactly what initially causes IBS and OAB. According to Mohammed El-Baba, MD of Wayne State University School of Medicine, within the intestinal tract, smooth muscles contract to allow food and liquids to pass through the digestive system. In the case of individuals with IBS, these contractions occur abnormally quickly, resulting in symptoms of IBS. A similar process occurs with OAB. Although liquids are eventually processed through the kidneys, the bladder sends a message to the brain when it is only half full, instead of the normal three-quarters to completely full. As a result, in both ailments, the body receives the message to quickly eliminate waste products.

Incidence Rates

According to the National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse, the rates of IBS and OAB are significant. It is estimated that approximately 20 per cent of the adult population of the United States is affected. It is also estimated that approximately 50 per cent of affected people begin to have problems before the age of 35. Approximately 50 per cent of individuals with irritable bowel syndrome also have symptoms of overactive bladder issues.


The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and overactive bladder share some similarities but are also dramatically different in many ways. For people with IBS, the symptoms include abdominal cramping, feeling bloated, gas, constipation and diarrhoea. According to Horowitz, for individuals with overactive bladder, symptoms include frequent feelings of needing to urinate. Urination may result in either "dry" OAB, in which there is not enough urine to go, or "wet" in which there is urine, but the patient may have difficulty reaching the toilet in time. Both conditions include the pressure and message from the brain to urgently eliminate wastes.


The treatments for IBS include medication, stress reduction, diet changes and the introduction of fibre, according to the National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse. For individuals with OAB, the treatment includes medications to slow down the bladder spasms and training the bladder to slow down by slowly lengthening the amount of time between urination.