Abdominal distension in health and irritable bowel syndrome: The effect of bladder filling

Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2018 Nov;30(11):e13437. doi: 10.1111/nmo.13437. Epub 2018 Aug 1.


Background & aims: Abdominal distension is a common feature of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is difficult to treat and can have the appearance of late pregnancy. It results from an abnormality of the normal accommodation reflex which keeps abdominal girth constant despite changes in gastrointestinal volume resulting from food ingestion or gas accumulation. We speculated that bladder filling might also trigger this abnormal reflex in IBS and this study tested this hypothesis.

Methods: Eight females with IBS (aged 21-43, mean 34) were compared with seven female controls (aged 19-56, mean 31) at the same time in the menstrual cycle. Abdominal girth in response to maximum tolerated bladder filling following ingestion of 1500 mls of water was measured using abdominal inductance plethysmography. Symptoms, girth change after bladder emptying, and urine volumes were also recorded.

Key results: Baseline girth of patients and controls was 84.8 and 79.9 cm respectively. After reaching maximum tolerated bladder filling, girth increased by a mean of 6.4 (Standard deviation (SD) 2.1) cm in patients compared with 3.5 (1.1) in controls (P = 0.006), with patients having symptoms of bladder hypersensitivity. After voiding urine, girth reduced by 5.3 (3.1) and 1.9 (1.2) in patients vs controls (P = 0.018), despite passing similar mean urine volumes, 789 (364) mls vs 671(286) (P = 0.50).

Conclusions & inferences: Bladder filling contributes to abdominal distension in IBS and is unrelated to urine volume suggesting that bladder stretch or hypersensitivity might trigger this response. Frequent bladder emptying may help control this intrusive problem which is very challenging to manage.

Keywords: bladder; bloating; distension; hypersensitivity; irritable bowel syndrome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen / pathology
  • Adult
  • Body Size
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / pathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Urinary Bladder*
  • Young Adult