Is there a link between chronic pain disorders and overactive bladder?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
Studies show that there may be a link between overactive bladder and certain chronic pain conditions. Researchers now believe that the bladder may be where some of these conditions begin. Among these conditions are:

- Interstitial cystitis, or “painful bladder syndrome"
- Fibromyalgia
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Irritable bowel syndrome
William B. Salt II., MD

Dr. Susie Whitworth provides important insight that there may be a link, and here is how I see it.

These syndromes, along with others such as interstitial cystitis (painful bladder), chronic pelvic pain, chronic non-bacterial prostatitis (painful prostate), irritable bowel, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia are interrelated functional medically unexplained symptoms collections, or symptom syndromes, which are “caused” by dysfunction involving the mind/brain—body connection.

To explain the unexplainable and cause, look at the terms used here and then “see the big picture.”


"Functional" refers to how the body works.

"Medically Unexplained Symptoms (MUS)" cannot be explained by routine medical tests, because they are caused by dysfunction.

"Symptom Syndromes" are collections of medically unexplained symptoms. They are diagnostic labels also known as functional somatic syndromes and chronic multisymptom illnesses. Nearly every specialty defines at least one syndrome.

"Dysfunction" is disturbance or “malfunction” of how the body works.

"Mind/Brain-Body Connection" refers to how the mind/brain and body communicate and talk with one another.


Research confirms that these symptoms and symptom syndromes frequently overlap one another, occur together, and are commonly associated with and often attributed to stress, depression, anxiety, and/or panic.

In a new book (, this author and Thomas L Hudson propose an explanation for these linkages, regardless of whether the symptoms are widespread (e.g., the fatigue of chronic fatigue syndrome or the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia) or localized to a specific area or region of the body (e.g., painful bladder syndrome). Medical and scientific research is showing how the mind/brain and body communicate and both how and why symptoms are generated, since they share a common cause. For example, the "central" mind/brain can become "sensitized" to "peripheral" body feelings, such as pain originating in the pelvis, bladder, prostate, and colon. So these symptom syndromes are now being called, central sensitivity syndromes.

Seeing this and the relationship between symptoms and self-care is powerfully therapeutic, as are knowing and taking the necessary steps in life's journey to feel better.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.