Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Stress

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be a painful and embarrassing disease.

While stress is not a direct cause of IBS, stress can aggravate IBS symptoms.

Reducing stress can help to relieve IBS symptoms.

Here we discuss:

  • what is IBS and its causes
  • does stress cause IBS
  • treatment of IBS.

Despite prevalence rates of around 20% of the American population, little is known about the causes of IBS.

While many of us suffer from IBS symptoms some time in our lives, people with IBS suffer the symptoms of IBS often and with little warning.

This can be embarrassing and painful for the sufferer of IBS.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome and what causes IBS

IBS is an intestinal disorder that can cause discomfort and distress.

IBS can be characterized by:

  • cramping
  • pain in the stomach
  • constipation
  • bloating and
  • diarrhea.

This means that IBS sufferers have bowels that are sensitive and easily upset.

Other symptoms of IBS may include nausea, heartburn, abdominal fullness, bloating or the feeling of needing to get to the restroom quickly.

The cause of IBS is not full understood yet.

There are a number of myths that abound around IBS. Some of these IBS myths include:

  • that stress is the cause of IBS or
  • it was something that I ate which caused IBS".

However, the research shows that the cause of IBS is not completely understood.

IBS is characterized by increased sensitivity of the nerve endings in the gastrointestinal tract.

This may alter the muscle contractions in the colon.

Stress and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

While stress does not cause IBS, the symptoms that characterize IBS may be affected.

One of the common symptoms of stress is increased muscle tension.

This increased muscle tension affects the sensitivity of the colon.

For example, stress has increased the motility and sensation of the colon in IBS sufferers compared to non-IBS sufferers.

How Does Stress Affect Health?

Stress exacerbates IBS systems but there are other ways that stress can affect health. These include:
Stress weight gain
Intestinal gas
Stress and heart disease
Stress and hair loss
Stress and acne
Stress and the immune system
Stress and cancer

How this occurs is not certain.

But stress can increase the sympathetic neural stimulation of the gastrointestinal tract which increases the sensitivity of the colon.

When people are stressed, they often report feeling butterflies, or may experience cramps.

In people who suffer IBS, the colon is very sensitive, with the the mind becoming more aware of the sensations in the colon.

As you become more aware of these unpleasant sensations, this may create a vicious cycle between the mind and the bowel, resulting in more symptoms of IBS.

While the cause of IBS is unknown, factors that can trigger IBS include stress, diet, infection, or changes in routine.

Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

There are a number of treatment options available for you if you suffer from IBS. Some of these include:

  • Using a stress diary to monitor what factors worsen or bring on symptoms of IBS.

    Different foods and different stressors may result in flare ups for different people.

  • Use various stress management techniques such as:

  • IBS hypnosis which has been successful for improving IBS symptoms
  • biofeedback therapy can be used to relieve the symptoms of IBS
  • relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation which may improve the blood flow to the gut area.

    Stress tends to inhibit the blood flow to the gut area and so relaxation strategies that improve digestion and the movement of food through the bowel are helpful.

  • Contractions in the bowel can be stimulated by exercise.

    Exercise enables the passing of waste and gas products.

    A study found that those who did moderate exercise (such as walking) for 30 minutes five times a week reported a significant improvement in constipation symptoms.

    I talk more about how to maintain an appropriate exercise and stress management program.

  • cognitive behavior therapy has also been shown to reduce the impact of IBS symptoms on well-being.

    Check out these strategies for positive thinking or adopting a positive mental attitude.

  • drug treatment by your doctor or the relief of pain by visiting a pain relief center. I talk more about pain and stress reduction techniques.

The information published is not intended to take the place of medical advice. Please seek advice from a qualified health care professional.

For more information on IBS and your treatment options, please visit About IBS.

Search here for more information on IBS

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