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Can Stress Really Cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Can Stress Really Cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Understanding the link between stress and IBS can help people control and improve this common digestive disorder.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects the normal function of the large intestine. Its main symptoms include constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain.

Doctors and researchers are not entirely sure what causes IBS. However, results from many studies show that stress may be a potential cause and risk factor of IBS. According to a 2014 study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, an estimated 40% to 60% of people with IBS also suffer from stress and vice versa.

Here’s a closer look at the link between stress and IBS and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center if you need treatment for this common digestive condition.

How Can Stress Cause IBS?

When you’re stressed, your body releases higher amounts of a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is partly responsible for the body’s fight or flight response to life-threatening situations.

The body’s fight or flight response will often affect our hormone levels and many bodily processes to help us deal with the threat. This includes digestion, which is why stress can cause constipation and/or diarrhea associated with IBS. For example, if you come upon a lion in the jungle, your body may delay a bowel movement, so it can use that energy to help you run away instead.

High levels of cortisol can cause the colon to spasm. When you’re feeling stressed, nervous, or upset, your colon will spasm. These spasms can make you experience stomach cramps and discomfort that trigger your IBS symptoms.

Cortisol can also affect the levels of good bacteria in your gut to cause IBS. It may even affect other organ functions that support the large intestine.

Some doctors and researchers say that stress is not a direct cause of IBS. However, they do say that stress may trigger symptoms of IBS. In any case, it’s vital to know that stress can contribute to or worsen this bowel condition.

How Can I Tell If Stress Is Causing My IBS?

A good way to tell whether stress is triggering your IBS is to keep track of when you have symptoms. Keep a journal of times and dates you have IBS. This can help you learn whether IBS happens when you deal with stressful situations.

A busy, difficult day at work is an example of a stressful situation that may cause IBS symptoms. An argument with your spouse or partner could also cause IBS. The stress you experience in these situations is known as acute stress, which is stress that lasts for a short period.

On the other hand, chronic stress is stress that lasts a long time, such as several weeks or months. You may be suffering from chronic stress if your IBS symptoms occur all the time without any noticeable patterns or triggers.

Signs of chronic stress include:

  • Insomnia
  • Sleepiness
  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Tiredness
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Stiff jaw or neck
  • Muscle tension
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in weight
  • Cloudy thinking
  • Forgetfulness
  • Low sexual libido

See your healthcare provider as soon as possible if the above symptoms sound familiar. Your doctors can talk to you in more detail to determine if these symptoms are being caused by stress.

What Are the Best Ways To Treat Stress?

Stress can be effectively treated with behaviors that help you relax. Laughing, yoga, and meditation may help you relax. You can also try listening to slow music, reading a book, or spending time with your friends and family members. Some people treat stress using creative outlets like journaling, painting or playing a musical instrument.

Exercise is a natural stress reliever. It helps your body release feel-good hormones called endorphins. Endorphins can also help reduce physical pain. Quality sleep may also reduce stress. A good night’s sleep can help your brain and body relax and recharge.

Avoid smoking or using drugs and alcohol when you are feeling stressed. All these substances can worsen stress and increase your risk for anxiety and depression.

Talk to your healthcare provider about stress treatment if you are unable to relieve it naturally on your own. Your doctors may refer you to counselors or therapists who can help you develop and find healthy coping methods. A therapist can also teach you how to become more assertive and say “no” in situations that could lead to stress.

How Can I Avoid Stress?

Stress is a normal part of life and can’t necessarily be avoided. Everyone experiences stress from time to time, including those who do their best to manage and prevent it.

The most effective way to avoid stress is to live a healthy lifestyle. This includes exercising regularly, eating nutritious foods, and getting lots of sleep. It may also involve changing your life in ways to avoid certain things that cause stress. For example, if your daily drive to work stresses you out, find a different route that has less traffic. Or, leave your home earlier to avoid heavy traffic.

There are no medications that can treat only stress. However, if you also suffer from anxiety, your doctor can discuss your options for medications that reduce anxiety. According to a report from the UNC School of Medicine, an estimated 40% of people with IBS also suffer from anxiety or depression.

In any case, consult with your healthcare provider if you need help or guidance when it comes to managing stress. Your doctors can work closely with you to find a solution.

Chronic stress cannot always be fixed overnight. Sometimes it can take months or years to find the best methods that help you avoid stress. Don’t hesitate to experiment with different stress-reduction methods until you find a solution that works for you.

What Are Other Risk Factors For IBS?

Food is another major trigger of IBS symptoms. You may be more likely to have IBS if you eat lots of the following foods:

  • Beans
  • Wheat products (cereal, breads, pastas)
  • Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes)
  • Carbonated drinks (soda, energy drinks, beer)
  • Dairy and cow’s milk products (cheese, butter, ice cream, sour cream)
  • Cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts)

Keep a food journal to find out whether certain foods are causing your IBS. Refer to your journal when you have IBS symptoms to identify the foods that trigger symptoms. Then, either stop eating that food or eat less of it to prevent IBS.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, dietary fiber may reduce constipation caused by IBS. Apples, avocados, and berries are good sources of dietary fiber. Eat higher amounts of foods like these if you have frequent constipation with IBS. Also, drink more water to help reduce symptoms of IBS.

Certain factors can also put you at risk for IBS. These risk factors include:

  • Being under the age of 50 years
  • Being female
  • Using estrogen therapy
  • Family history of IBS
  • Mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression
  • History of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Exposure to stress during early childhood

What Are Other Unsuspecting Causes Of IBS?

It’s possible your IBS is being caused by something else if you do not meet risk factors for IBS or do not suffer from stress.

Abnormalities in the nerves in your digestive system may cause IBS. These abnormalities may be caused by past trauma, infections, and tumors. Your doctor can review your medical history to find out if these factors are causing your IBS.

Yeast overgrowth in your gut, such as candida, may also cause IBS. Candida is a fungal infection that is mostly caused by eating lots of foods that contribute to “bad” gut bacteria. High-lactose dairy products and refined, sugary carbs can increase the number of bad bacteria in your gut. Donuts, cookies, and cakes are examples of refined, sugary carbs that may contribute to candida.

Tips On How To Live With IBS

If you are living with IBS, there are certain things you can do to manage your condition and improve your quality of life. Here are tips that can help you live with IBS:

  • Start working with a gastroenterologist. A gastroenterologist is a doctor who specializes in digestive health and can treat your IBS.
  • Identify all your triggers, like stress and certain foods.
  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day. This can help prevent gas, bloating, and abdominal pain.
  • Drink less caffeine and alcohol. Drinks like coffee and beer can worsen IBS.
  • Eat probiotics. Probiotics can increase your amount of “good” gut bacteria to prevent or resolve candida and IBS symptoms. Greek yogurt, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha are examples of probiotics.
  • Exercise regularly to improve blood flow and digestion. Exercise can help you experience regular, healthy bowel movements.

Treating IBS With Lompoc Valley Medical Center

Lompoc Valley Medical Center is home to a large team of board-certified doctors who can work with you to reduce stress, anxiety, and IBS. If you’re not sure what is causing your IBS symptoms, we can review your medical history and run a series of diagnostic tests to rule out other health conditions.

Contact us today at (805) 737-3382 to learn more about our many healthcare services.