holding stomach in pain

Prostatitis and IBS: Are They Related?


  • Prostatitis and IBS are widespread conditions.
  • Both are difficult to diagnose and treat.
  • Having IBS increases the risk of prostatitis later in life.
  • The theory of the bladder-gut-brain axis explains how prostatitis and IBS may be related.

Prostatitis and irritable bowel syndrome are both functional disorders that ruin the quality of life of millions worldwide. The two have much in common, and researchers have concluded that they may be related.

What Is the Relationship Between Prostatitis and IBS?

Prostatitis is a surprisingly common medical condition, even among young men. Despite this, doctors still have a hard time diagnosing or defining it. Bacteria cause about 5-10 percent of prostatitis cases. We don’t yet understand how the remaining 90-95 percent of prostatitis cases develop.

IBS is as common as prostatitis. It causes pain, inflammation, altered bowel movements, and general discomfort around the lower abdomen. Many IBS patients find it hard to live with the condition.

Researchers have noticed that men with IBS are more likely to develop non-bacterial prostatitis. And that may mean the two conditions are related.

According to a 2016 study, 10.2 percent of non-bacterial prostatitis patients had IBS before their prostatitis problems developed. The authors advise urologists to consider the strong association between IBS and prostatitis when diagnosing and treating patients.

Many of the symptoms and triggers of the two disorders overlap.

  • Both are functional disorders; both produce symptoms, but doctors can’t diagnose either through clear, well-defined measures.
  • The prevalence of the two disorders is similar.
  • IBS patients are more likely to develop prostatitis.
  • Past physical and sexual abuse is a risk factor for both.
  • They have comparable impacts on the quality of life.

Prostatitis and IBS May Have Common Roots

Prostatitis and IBS both cause pain in internal organs. Our innards relay pain differently than our skin; these organs have fewer nerves capable of transmitting the sensation of pain.

We sense pain in our internal organs in two ways:

  • In some cases, internal pain “radiates” to a different organ, or even the skin, depending on where the nerves of the affected organ run.
  • In other instances, we feel internal pain coming from deep within the body without being able to pinpoint its location.

neck and back pain

Our body can become hypersensitive to outside and internal pain. This hypersensitivity may explain some of the strange things about prostatitis and IBS.

Doctors suspect that prostatitis may cause the sensitization of the central nervous system. A more sensitive central nervous system may distort the signals our brain receives from the affected organ.

Signals that would not elicit a reaction otherwise can lead to sensations of fullness and the need to urinate or have a bowel movement. Otherwise-normal signals may register in the brain as pain, and signals that would mean pain register as even more painful.

There’s also a psychological element in internal pain. Your brain can change your perception of pain through several psychological pathways.

Prostatitis and IBS produce changes in the brain and the affected organs, including the bladder and the gut. Scientists have developed a theory to explain this phenomenon, called the “bladder-gut-brain axis.”

This theory explains how functional disorders like IBS and prostatitis work; it defines why one may act as a trigger for the other.

The Bladder-gut-brain Axis

A team of Dutch researchers determined that doctors may be able to harness the psychological element in internal pain to create more effective treatments for functional disorders such as prostatitis and IBS.

Gut and prostate problems often go hand-in-hand with anxiety and depression. An unpredictable illness that can play tricks with your bowel movements can also affect your mental health, and IBS sufferers can attest to that. The researchers concluded that since they’re complex and entail a psychological element, functional disorders may benefit from alternative treatments such as psychological counseling.

The bladder-gut-brain axis theory states that prostate and gut disorders often overlap with various psychological problems. Functional disorders develop and exist on this axis through many pathways.

Such pathways include:

  • The enteric nervous system, which is responsible for the muscle contractions/relaxations of the digestive system
  • The central nervous system
  • The digestive tract
  • The hormone system
  • The immune system

According to the theory, the bladder-gut-brain axis supports two-way communication between components.

You may get a faint sensation of something being out of place in your bowels. Your brain amplifies the feeling, triggering a response that self-fulfills your initial fears. Soon, you feel sick and in urgent need of a bathroom.

models of intestines and brain

The idea that your brain influences the behavior of your gut is not new. Recent science also confirms the existence of a bidirectional brain-gut axis.

The Whole is More Than the Sum of Its Parts

According to the bladder-gut-brain axis theory, circular communication loops exist between our brain and our various internal organs. The prostate and the bowels are interlinked within such communication loops.

If anything goes wrong at any point in a loop, it upsets the equilibrium, causing cascading medical problems.

The Treatment Resistance of Prostatitis and IBS

In addition to shared features and symptoms, prostatitis and IBS have something else in common: They are both difficult to diagnose and treat.

The complex relationship between the brain and our internal organs explains why doctors have such a hard time defeating functional disorders. Without recognizing the extent of the problem, they often treat symptoms instead of root causes.

Erectile dysfunction has a psychological component. As many as 20 percent of erectile dysfunction cases may have a psychological cause.

Could that mean that a brain-to-penis axis exists as well? Could it determine how well we perform between the sheets? It would not be a farfetched theory. And it would explain why the proven ED treatment tadalafil (Cialis) can treat prostatitis as well.

Since prostatitis and IBS are linked, ED treatments may even have a positive effect on IBS.

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