You may have noticed that you are more likely to suffer from constipation or diarrhea during times of stress. But can anxiety really cause stomach pain? Or do problems in the digestive tract affect the psyche? In this article, we will discuss the relationship between the mind and the gut. And we'll see how anxiety is related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common problem that causes abnormal bowel movements.
What is IBS?
IBS is a dysfunction of the digestive tract. This means that, unlike diseases such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, changes in the physical structure of the digestive tract do not always occur. Diagnosis of IBS is usually based on symptoms after other disorders have been ruled out.
Symptoms of IBS include bloating, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation, and abdominal pain. IBS is fairly common - 10 to 15% of people in the United States have IBS. While the symptoms of IBS can be very bothersome, the condition is not dangerous and there are treatment options.
What is Anxiety Disorder?
Everyone knows about stress and worries. But if the worry is persistent, severe, or interfering with your normal life, it can be a sign of an anxiety disorder. People with anxiety disorders can also have physical symptoms, such as a rapid heart rate, fatigue, and sweating. About a third of adults in the US will be affected by an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Common anxiety disorders are:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Panic disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety and IBS: How are they related?
Studies have shown that mood disorders such as anxiety and depression are more common in people with irritable bowel syndrome. In one study, 44% of people with IBS had an anxiety disorder, compared to just 8% of people without IBS.
Let's look at why anxiety and gut problems may be related. The mind and gut are intertwined in what scientists call the gut-brain axis.
In the gut-brain axis, our thoughts, feelings, and environment result in the release of chemicals. These chemicals affect various processes in our bodies. With IBS and anxiety, the theory is that when you're feeling anxious, your body releases stress-related chemicals into your gut. The result is abdominal pain, a change in gut bacteria, and abnormal bowel movements.
Conversely, a poorly functioning gut has been linked to changes in mental health. This may be because our brains depend on chemicals and hormones from gut bacteria.
Is IBS Caused by Anxiety?
Studies have shown evidence supporting two ideas. The first is that anxiety leads to digestive problems, and the second suggests that problems in the gut can cause anxiety. And then there are many people with anxiety who don't have IBS and vice versa.
While we know that anxiety and IBS are often linked, we're not quite sure how yet. But it's probably more complicated than one simply causing the other.
Can Anxiety Cause Constipation or Stomach Pain?
Stress and anxiety can cause physical symptoms throughout the whole body. In the gastrointestinal tract, increased stress can lead to abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation. This can even happen in people who don't have irritable bowel syndrome. Studies have shown that people with anxiety and depression are more likely to have episodes of abdominal pain or digestive problems.
What does anxiety-induced stomach pain feel like?
Stomach pain caused by anxiety or by a functional digestive problem such as IBS is often difficult to distinguish from other causes of stomach pain. However, stomach pain due to IBS often occurs after eating trigger foods or during a stressful event. And they usually get better after going to the toilet. Signs that your abdominal pain is not due to IBS or anxiety include:
- Unintentional weight loss
- Occurrence over the age of 50
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Abdominal pain that wakes you up at night
In conclusion, the connection between anxiety and IBS is strong, and further research may help shed light on potential causes or treatments of IBS symptoms linked to anxiety. It’s important to note that not everyone with IBS has experienced anxiety. Still, for those dealing with both conditions, it’s important to remember how your mental health can influence the physical symptoms associated with IBS. It may be beneficial to look into alternative therapies such as meditation, mindfulness, talk therapy, or other mental health support to try alleviating some of these stress-related issues. Maintaining a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, exercising regularly, and getting adequate rest can also contribute to managing IBS and its correlation with anxiety. If you struggle with symptoms related to both conditions, it might be worth discussing this approach with your doctor to find the best possible solution for you.