Bowel problems like constipation are common among people with interstitial cystitis (IC). Constipation may also worsen IC symptoms. Diet and lifestyle changes, along with medications, can help relieve symptoms.

IC is a chronic pain condition that causes urinary symptoms such as:

  • feeling like you need to pee all the time
  • painful urination
  • a strong need to urinate

People with IC are also at greater risk of other pain syndromes, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and fibromyalgia.

Some people with IC report additional symptoms such as constipation, a reduced ability to pass stool regularly or empty your bowels when you need to poop. Constipation may also worsen your IC.

Keep reading to learn more about the potential links between IC and constipation.

There isn’t a lot of research connecting IC to constipation, but a few potential links exist.

People with IC are at greater risk of IBS. This condition can cause abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits, which can be diarrhea, constipation, or symptoms of both. While researchers don’t know exactly what causes IBS, they do know the condition affects pain sensations and nerve transmissions, similar to how IC can affect your bladder.

Another consideration is that some IC medications can cause constipation as a side effect. Examples include:

  • tricyclic antidepressants
  • antihistamines
  • cyclosporine

However, it’s important that you do not stop taking these medicines without your doctor’s approval.

Triggers of gastrointestinal and IC symptoms

IC can cause different symptoms. Some people experience gastrointestinal symptoms like lower abdominal pain. You may notice symptoms get worse when you eat certain foods. While these foods may be different for each person, some that are known to worsen IC include:

  • alcohol
  • chocolate
  • coffee
  • foods made with artificial sweeteners
  • soda
  • spicy foods
  • tomatoes
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Constipation can have multiple contributing factors, including your IC. Steps you can take to manage it include:

  • Eat more fiber: Fiber is naturally present in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Incorporating an additional fiber-filled serving daily can add bulk to your stool, making it easier to pass.
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity, such as walking, dancing, or yoga, can help stimulate food to pass through your intestines more easily.
  • Ask about your medications: Talk with a healthcare professional about your prescriptions to check if any, such as opioids or antidepressants, could be worsening your constipation.
  • Drink enough water: Water can help your stool become softer and easier to pass.

Some people with IC may get constipation relief from laxatives. But you may find that some types of laxatives can cause IC flares.

For example, some people experience higher levels of cramping with stimulant laxatives like bisacodyl and senna. These laxatives stimulate your bowels to move, which could worsen your symptoms when you have IC.

You may also wish to talk with a healthcare professional about other conditions that can co-occur with IC and may worsen constipation. Examples include pelvic floor dysfunction and IBS.

Other common conditions with IC

Many people with IC also have other conditions that result in pain and inflammation in the body. Examples include:

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Constipation can’t cause IC, but it can make symptoms worse.

Constipation can cause stool to build up in your intestines, putting added pressure on your bladder. As a result, your bladder can’t empty as well, and you may feel like you constantly have to pee. These symptoms would be difficult to differentiate from IC or could worsen IC symptoms.

Healthcare professionals don’t know exactly what causes IC. There are likely multiple causes that can lead to IC symptoms, including:

  • autoimmune reactions, where your body’s immune system attacks healthy cells
  • exposure to certain substances, including foods
  • infections
  • medical conditions outside the bladder that may make you more sensitive to pain, such as IBS, fibromyalgia, CFS, and migraine

The following are some frequently asked questions about IC and gastrointestinal symptoms like constipation.

How common is constipation with IC?

There aren’t currently any published studies or statistics on how often people with IC experience constipation. But the Interstitial Cystitis Association notes that constipation is a particularly common problem for people with IC.

Can constipation make IC worse?

Constipation can worsen IC symptoms in some people by potentially aggravating nerves, leading to increased pain.

Can I take MiraLAX with IC?

MiraLAX is the name brand for polyethylene glycol, an over-the-counter osmotic laxative that helps relieve constipation in some people. It draws in water to make your stool softer and easier to pass.

For some people with IC, MiraLAX may be a better option than stimulant laxatives. While MiraLAX may help your constipation symptoms, it won’t address the cause. Talk with a healthcare professional about ways to relieve constipation and whether MiraLAX could be a good option if you experience occasional constipation.

IC mainly causes urinary symptoms, but some people experience side effects or other related medical conditions outside the bladder. Constipation is one such condition common among people with IC. Constipation can also worsen IC symptoms.

If you experience constipation with your IC, talk with a healthcare professional to see what treatments and lifestyle and dietary changes may help both your constipation and IC symptoms.