How Anxiety Affects Your Bladder and Bowel

woman suffering from anxiety bowel movements

Anxiety can affect the body in many ways, but a lesser discussed symptom is the effect of the disorder on the bladder and bowel. The NHS has estimated that between 3 and 6 million people in the UK have some degree of urinary incontinence[i] while 6.5 million adults in the UK suffer from a bowel problem[ii], but these symptoms are often more prevalent in those with anxiety. Although it can be embarrassing to talk about, studies have found that anxiety is present in many people with incontinence[iii], and it can be difficult to know what to do. To help with your anxiety bowel movements, and bladder issues, we have some information about how anxiety affects the bladder and bowel, plus advice on how to stop anxiety urination and nervous bowel movements.

How Does Anxiety Cause Bladder and Bowel Problems?

People who feel stressed or anxious often find themselves having to use the toilet more often. This is because stress triggers a response in our body that discharges stress hormones into the bloodstream. There, they travel to specific spots in the body to cause certain physical, emotional and psychological changes and increase the body’s ability to deal with a potential threat. Often, this stress response is known as the fight or flight response since the body is preparing to fight the possible threat or flee from it.

The stress response can trigger other reactions in the body too. For example, stress can cause the muscles to tighten. This will help protect the body against any injury the potential threat may cause. However, the abdomen muscles can also tighten in this process, leading to an increased urge to urinate or defecate. Also, tightened muscles due to a stress response can cause brief muscle control issues, interfering with our voluntary muscle control. These muscle control interferences can affect the muscles in charge of urination and bowel movements, leading to a more frequent urge to use the toilet and even accidents when the person can’t get to the bathroom in time. The fight or flight response usually kicks in when people feel nervous, threatened, or afraid. Although it usually only occasionally affects our bladder and bowel, the stress response’s inception can become a frequent issue for those with anxiety[iv].

 

Common Anxiety-Related Bladder and Bowel Issues

man with anxiety

Although anxiety can cause several issues with the body, there are a couple of problems that it can cause concerning the bladder and bowel.

Frequent Urination

Frequent urination when you need to urinate more than usual during 24 hours is a common symptom of anxiety disorder. Since most people release urine 6-7 times a day, frequent urination is usually considered to be urinating more than 7 times in 24 hours, as long as 2 litres of fluid has been consumed that day[v]. Frequent urination can affect anyone, including children, and can be controlled with assistance from a GP. Although frequent urination can be a common symptom of issues besides anxiety, like pregnancy, it can also indicate more severe health conditions such as diabetes or prostate problems[vi].

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects up to 20% of the population at some point in their life and is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints. Although it isn’t clear exactly how stress, anxiety and IBS are connected, studies have proven that they can occur together. Experts believe that it is a result of the stress reaction in the body. Typical symptoms of IBS include recurring diarrhoea or constipation, plus stomach pain and nausea, which are evident in some people. People with IBS often experience a few weeks or even months between symptoms, though anxiety-induced IBS reoccurs during times of stress or worry[vii].

Learn more about irritable bowel syndrome.

Symptoms of Anxiety Bladder and Bowel Issues

Since many health issues can include issues with the bladder and bowel, it’s important to make an appointment with your GP if you’re experiencing these problems rather than self-diagnose them. However, several symptoms can indicate you are suffering from an anxiety-related bladder or bowel issue. These include:

  • Accidental leakage of urine or faeces
  • Being unable to reach the toilet in time
  • Releasing small amounts of urine throughout the day
  • Getting out of bed often during the night to pass urine or faeces
  • Bedwetting
  • The urge to urinate or defecate that may be difficult to stop or control, which can lead to leakage incidents
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Changes in appetite
  • A heightened worry of having a urinary issue or anxiety bowel movement incident in public (incontinence anxiety)
  • A sensitivity to urinary incontinence or anxiety bowel movements and where they occur
  • Limited lifestyle due to the risk of an involuntary urinary or bowel movement incident[viii]

This exaggeration of the bladder or bowel control can occur frequently or rarely and often accompanies an escalation of other anxiety symptoms. Unfortunately, the severity, timing and intensity of the loss of bladder or bowel control varies from person to person and often from day to day. Because of this, any bladder or bowel issues must be diagnosed by a health professional.

How To Treat Anxiety Bowel Movements and Bladder Issues

Although anxiety bowel movements and bladder issues are embarrassing and uncomfortable, there are plenty of ways a GP can help. If your GP determines that your symptoms are due to anxiety, there are several preventions and treatments they may recommend. Some of these treatments will help relieve anxiety, thus relieving the cause of bowel and bladder issues. However, others will focus specifically on these symptoms.

Knowing how to stop nervous bowel movements, how to stop anxiety urination, or deal with any other symptoms you may be experiencing is the first step in tackling the issue. Your anxiety bowel movements and bladder issues can be under control in no time.

Incontinence Products

Although incontinence products aren’t a direct treatment for anxiety bowel movements, and bladder issues, they can help you manage your symptoms while you wait to hear from your doctor or to start treatment. For example, disposable incontinence pants can help you on a day to day basis, reducing the risk of incidents in public and soothing any incontinence anxiety. Plus, incontinence pads can help you sleep serenely.

Lifestyle Changes

Making some changes to your lifestyle can improve symptoms of bladder and bowel issues, regardless of their cause. Some lifestyle changes your health professional may suggest include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Reducing caffeine intake
  • Altering how much fluid is drunk a day
  • Consuming a high-fibre diet
  • Avoiding stress triggers
  • Quitting smoking[ix]

Resources

Self-help resources are often the first treatment a GP will offer since they are available quickly and can help relieve anxiety at a personal pace. Your GP may recommend several self-help resources for anxiety or bladder and bowel issues, including workbooks and online courses. Often, these resources are based on cognitive behavioural therapies, helping you control anxiety and any symptoms that it causes. The resources provided may allow you to work through them independently, or your GP may put you on a course with other people who experience similar difficulties.

Alternatively, a support system called Reading Well will help you support and manage your health through helpful reading. All of their books are recommended by health experts and people who have experienced the health conditions they discuss, and you don’t need a recommendation from a doctor to use their suggested books.

Talking Therapies

Another treatment your GP may offer is a talking therapy. Aimed at helping ease symptoms of anxiety and panic, these therapies provide you with a safe space to talk about any difficulties you are experiencing with anxiety bowel movements or bladder issues. There are two types of talking therapy that your doctor may recommend for anxiety, and these are:

  • Applied Relaxation Therapy – This involves utilising mind and body exercises to reduce anxiety and its symptoms in the moment. Some relaxation techniques involved include sustained deep breathing, guided imagery, systematic desensitisation, and progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – This focuses on the idea that your thoughts, attitudes and beliefs affect your behaviour and feelings. Furthermore, it explores the notion that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you, worsening anxiety and other issues. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy provides healthy ways of dealing with overwhelming problems by changing negative patterns.

Medication

There are several medications your GP may prescribe to help with anxiety bowel movements, or bladder issues, depending on your issue. However, a doctor will only offer medication to manage symptoms, and your GP should offer you other treatment routes. Some medications you may receive are:

  • Antidepressants – There are several types of antidepressants that you may receive. The most commonly prescribed medication for anxiety is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, which increases serotonin levels in the brain. However, you may also receive desipramine, a commonly prescribed antidepressant for bladder issues.
  • Pregabalin – Pregabalin can treat epilepsy as well as anxiety, and it works by stopping your brain from releasing the chemicals that cause anxiety.
  • Anti-Diarrhoea medication – Antidiarrheal drugs slow down the bowel movement to decrease the number of bowel movements and the urge to defecate.
  • Anticholinergics – Used to treat urge incontinence, anticholinergics come in many forms and can calm an overactive bladder. [x] [xi]

Get In Touch with Your GP

Although anxiety bowel movements and bladder issues can be embarrassing, discussing your symptoms with a healthcare professional and taking steps to prevent them will help you get back on track. Do you have any tips on how to treat nervous bowel movements? Or how to stop anxiety urination? Let us know.

 

Sources
[i] https://www.allaboutincontinence.co.uk/incontinence-statistics

[ii] https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/excellence-in-continence-care.pdf

[iii] https://www.nafc.org/bhealth-blog/is-stress-contributing-to-your-incontinence

[iv] https://www.anxietycentre.com/anxiety-disorders/symptoms/loss-of-bladder-or-bowel-control/

[v] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/70782

[vi] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15533-urination–frequent-urination

[vii] https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/anxiety-type/irritable-bowel-syndrome/

[viii] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/incontinence-prevention-tips

[ix] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-incontinence/treatment/

[x] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fecal-incontinence/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351403

[xi] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urinary-incontinence/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352814

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