What is the Connection Between IBS and Stress?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 31 December 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is definitely linked to stress, although stress does not cause this condition. IBS and stress often appear together and stress is known to exacerbate IBS symptoms. Patients with IBS can use stress management techniques as one of the tools to reduce the incidence of flareups. It can also be helpful to be evaluated by a mental health professional, as many people with IBS have generalized anxiety disorder and other mental health conditions that can be linked to IBS as well.

For healthy individuals, it is very common to feel stomach cramps during periods of stress. Some people vomit or lose control of their bowels when they are under stress. This is a result of the fact that the gastrointestinal tract is regulated by the autonomic nervous system, and the autonomic nervous system is also involved in stress reactions. When people are under stress, confused signals can result in the manifestation of physical symptoms. In the case of IBS and stress, the minor cramps caused by stress in regular people can turn into a full-fledged IBS attack.


IBS and stress may be linked in other ways. Chronic stress can impair the immune system and some research suggests that there is an immune component to IBS flareups. In addition, people in a heightened state of awareness because of stress may be more aware of cramps and discomfort in the bowels. This can cause more stress and in turn, make the cramps worse. IBS and stress are also connected the other way; IBS can create stress for patients. Many people with this condition develop anxiety because they worry about losing bowel control, releasing flatulence, and experiencing other IBS symptoms.

People with IBS may find it helpful to keep the connection between IBS and stress in mind. Stress relieving techniques ranging from meditation to exercise can help people reduce their stress and their IBS symptoms. In addition, people should be aware that chronic stress can be associated with mental health conditions. Sometimes, addressing an underlying mental health issue will help people cope with stress more effectively, and can reduce feelings of tension, stress, and helplessness.

Stress management techniques are quite variable. People addressing the connection between IBS and stress may want to explore a number of options to find one that works for them. If a stress management technique isn't effective, it doesn't mean that other methods won't work or that the patient has failed.



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Post 2

@heavanet- I have also found that taking medications for excessive stomach acid also helps control some IBS symptoms that occur during stressful times. Of course, you should always check with your doctor first to see which medications would be best for you before you try them.

Post 1

Though I have not been diagnosed with IBS, I experience stomach issues when I am under a lot of stress. When I am stressed out, I try to eat a bland diet without a lot of fat, sugar, and spices. This diet helps keep my digestive tract calm until the stressful times have passed.

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