How are IBS and Stress Related? Types of Stressors and How to Manage Both

Posted December 9, 2020 by Clint Kelly - See Editorial Guidelines

Stress is a natural response for many of us, and it can be good. However, chronic stress can lead to both physical and emotional health problems. So, could irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and stress be related?

In this article, we will discuss how IBS and stress are related and the different types of stressors that can impact IBS symptoms. First, here is a quick summary to give you a takeaway answer.

How are IBS and Stress Related? According to research, patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) experience more frequent or severe symptoms when stressed. Though stress can cause some flare-ups, it is not the direct cause of IBS. It is believed that stress can affect the immune system, which then causes IBS triggers.

With this quick answer in mind, let’s get into the specifics.

Overview of IBS

How are IBS and Stress Related

Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, is a common health problem that affects the large intestines. This condition can be painful and irritating, as the symptoms often include cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, gas, constipation, and diarrhea.

IBS is often a chronic condition and requires long-term treatment to manage your symptoms.

The exact cause of IBS is not fully known. There is some belief that this condition could run in your family and be hereditary to an extent. Certain events or lifestyle choices may cause flare-ups in symptoms.

Typically, when a person has IBS, their symptoms may lean more towards diarrhea or more towards constipation. This is often noted as IBS-D or IBS-C, respectively.

Now that you have an understanding of what IBS is let’s cover the effects of stress on our overall health.

Stress and Your Health

Stress is often overlooked as a potential cause of health problems. This is particularly true of chronic stress.

At the base level, stress is a strain or tension on your emotional or physical well-being. It is often caused by an event or life circumstance that gives you feelings of frustration, anger, or nervousness.

Short-term, or acute stress, is a beneficial thing. It is our body’s natural response to something happening right in front of us. For example, when driving a car, we can feel acute stress when you have to slam on the brakes. The acute stress felt at this moment allows you to manage the situation at hand. This type of stress triggers our fight-or-flight response.

On the other hand, long-term, or chronic stress, is a type of stress that is experienced for an extended period. This type of stress can occur when there is tension between you and your spouse or if you are experiencing financial difficulty.

Not managing chronic stress well can lead to some health consequences. Poorly managed chronic stress keeps your body alert despite there not being any reasons for your body being alert. This can lead to problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, depression, skin conditions, and worsening of preexisting conditions.

Chronic stress can also keep you up at night, leading to sleep deprivation. A lack of sleep will only add to one’s risk of developing a health problem.

Relationship Between IBS and Stress

The relationship between IBS and stress is twofold. Those who experience chronic stress may be more susceptible to the symptoms of IBS. Those who already have IBS may experience more stress because of the emotional and physical strain it can place on your body.

According to Edward Blanchard, a psychology professor at the State University of New York at Albany, about 60% of patients with IBS meet the criteria for having one or more psychiatric disorders.

Chronic stress can cause a person to experience increased anxiety and episodes of depression. And people with IBS appear to be more likely to be susceptible to anxiety and depression.

People under intense amounts of stress may be more concerned about different aspects of their lives, including their health. Thus, the stress may make a person’s mind acutely aware of spasms in the digestive tract, leading to more stress.

How are IBS and Stress Related

The immune system is also significantly impacted by one’s level of stress. When the immune system is compromised, then a person is more susceptible to illness and the worsening of symptoms of an underlying illness.

You see, IBS often results from a biologic relationship between one’s brain and digestive tract. And chronic stress can trigger abnormal fluctuations in hormones, which affects one’s gut health.

So, according to this, the relationship between IBS and stress has to do with an imbalance of intestinal bacteria caused by stress and abnormal hormone fluctuations.

Types of Stressors that Impact IBS Symptoms

There are many different types of stressors a person may experience. For example, there are physical stressors, such as going through surgery or having an infection. There are also emotional or psychological stressors, such as relationship or financial problems.

Again, acute stress is beneficial in many instances. However, your stress becomes chronic when it continues to affect your overall well-being day after day. You must learn to prevent stress, regardless of the stressor, from becoming chronic.

Knowing the source of your stress and how it affects you allows you to find ways to appropriately manage your stress.

Ways to Deal with IBS and Stress

Dealing with IBS can be done through the use of prescription medications. Depending on the type of IBS you have, your doctor may prescribe you medicine, such as Motegrity, Linzess, or Trulance.

The type of medication you may need will depend on the symptoms you have, any allergies you have, and whether you are taking other medications.

When it comes to stress, many individuals need to find a relaxing outlet. Many types of stress can be managed through enjoying a hobby, exercising regularly, and meditating. It is crucial for those experiencing chronic stress to eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and maintain a positive attitude.

In some cases, speaking to a professional therapist or counselor can help. Talking through the factors that are causing your stress can bring some relief.

If you are experiencing physical stress, such as recovering from an injury, steps need to be taken to reduce your pain. For example, stretching appropriately and using ice or heat packs can help reduce pain and speed up your recovery.

Final Thoughts

We hope this has given you more insight into how IBS and stress are related. This article is not intended for medical advice. Consult your doctor for questions regarding your specific health concerns.

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