Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Symptoms & Treatment Options
Irritable bowel syndrome is not often thought of as a stress-related disorder, but as it turns out, the brain can play a significant role in the health of our gut and digestive systems. And this is a two-way street, as the health of our gut can dramatically affect normal brain functioning, altering our emotions, mood, and even sleeping patterns.
This is why common treatments for IBS usually encompass several types of treatment protocols, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, diet changes, and even anti-anxiety medication, as theres no magic bullet that can cure IBS and its symptoms in one fell swoop.
In this article, we will discuss what Irritable Bowel Syndrome is, what causes it, and what treatment protocols are available, including the Drake Institutes non-drug treatment options, which are effective at helping reduce IBS, as well as other stress-related disorders like general anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Diet And Lifestyle Changes
What we eat has a huge impact on our overall health, and our stomachs and intestines are some of the first organs to feel its effects. In treating IBS, providers usually start with your diet.
Specific foods can trigger IBS symptoms in some people, but everyones triggers are different. As you change your diet, its a smart idea to keep a diary of what you eat and how it affects your bowel movements . This can be especially helpful to your provider as they discuss treatment recommendations with you.
Generally, research shows that avoiding these might help prevent symptoms of IBS:
1) Gas-producing foods. People with IBS may be more sensitive to foods that can cause increased flatulence and feel more discomfort after eating them.
2) Dairy. People with IBS who are lactose-intolerant experience worse upset stomach after eating lactose than people with IBS who are not lactose-intolerant. If you have IBS, try to avoid dairy . Even if lactose isnt an issue for you, you may be sensitive to other milk proteins, and dairy-free alternatives like soy or oat milk could help with bloating and stomach aches.
3) Foods high in FODMAPs. FODMAPs are short carbohydrates like fructose and sorbitol that appear in many fruits, some vegetables, honey, and wheat. Studies show that they can linger in our guts, absorbing water and fermenting, which can cause pain and irregular bowel movements.
How Does Stress And Anxiety Affect The Gut
Together, the brain and the nerves that control your body are called the central nervous system. This system operates on internal controls that seemingly run on autopilot. Its usually divided into two parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Some classify it as having a third part, the enteric nervous system, which controls most of the activity of the gastrointestinal system.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic systems usually work in tandem. The parasympathetic system is known as the rest and digest system. It controls body functions like urination, defecation, digestion, tear production, and saliva production in short, many of the functions your body does in going through the activities of daily life.
The sympathetic nervous system is your fight or flight side. Stress and anxiety activate this system. They set off a chain reaction of hormone release that increases how fast your heart beats, pumps more blood to your muscles, and slows or even stops digestive processes in your stomach.
According to an article published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology , having IBS results in disturbances in the balance between your brain and gut. The result is that stress and anxiety sometimes trigger overactivity of your gut. This causes the diarrhea and stomach churning that those with IBS know well. In others, the brain signals are underactive, and their gut may slow down, resulting in constipation, gas, and abdominal discomfort.
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Quick Read Ibs Is Hard To Stomach
- Irritable bowel syndrome isnt dangerous but can disrupt your life.
- Symptoms include stomach pain, cramping, constipation and diarrhea.
- Experts think IBS is caused by miscommunication between the brain and gut.
- There is no cure, but you can manage symptoms by learning your triggers.
- The low-FODMAP diet, medication and therapy can help.
I spend part of each day thinking about my bowels. I know that sounds strange, but for me it has become a normal part of living with irritable bowel syndrome .
Let me take you through an ordinary day when my IBS symptoms are flaring up. Upon waking up, I immediately have to rush to the bathroom, then again as Im on my way out the door. At the office, I feel mildly nauseated throughout the day and dont eat much, so my energy levels are low.
During a meeting, my stomach feels like its full of angry hornets, and Im faced with a decision: hold the gas in and suffer the cramps or stink up the conference room. I make bathroom runs throughout the day, interrupting my workflow and making me self-conscious of looking like a bad employee for not being at my desk.
At home, I can finally indulge in real food without caring how it will affect my stomach. I can sit on the toilet for as long as I want until my rectal cramps pass without fretting about not getting work done.
Though IBS can be irritating, plus embarrassing and exhausting, the good news is that, while there is no cure for it, it is treatable.
How Do Stress And Anxiety Affect Ibs
If youve recently been diagnosed with IBS or have long been affected by the condition, then youll have been told that lifestyle choices play a big part in it. IBS can impact people differently and someone going through a particularly bad flare-up may be triggered by the smallest of things. Having said that, stress and feeling anxious can have a massive effect on your IBS.
Currently, there is no known specific cause for IBS but research into the link between the brain and the gut is strong. Experts suggest that people suffering from IBS have higher sensitivities to stress and certain foods. Its suggested that those with IBS can frequently suffer from anxiety and depression which in turn worsens the symptoms. The colon is a part of the body that is controlled by the nervous system which is what responds to stress.
Having IBS can cause imbalances between the brain and gut according to an article published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology. With stress and anxiety sometimes triggering overactivity in your gut, resulting in diarrhea and stomach cramps. Whereas in others, the brain is underactive meaning the gut slows down causing constipation and discomfort.
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Why Irritable Bowel Syndrome And Panic Attacks Can Overlap
Both IBS and panic attacks are thought to be caused at least in part by a dysfunction in the central nervous system’s natural stress response, sometimes called the “fight or flight” response.
During a panic attack, the body reacts as if it’s in serious danger. Common symptoms include:
- Heart palpitations
- Feeling as if you can’t breathe
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Fear of losing control or dying
- Feeling as if you’re going to throw up
If you have IBS, you might experience some or all of these symptoms as well as abdominal pain, cramping, and diarrhea.
Anxiety About Social Situations
While an occasional glass of wine by yourself in a bubble bath can be part of your self-care routine if you are consistently choosing to avoid social situations then its a problem! Hanging out with friends and sharing experiences nourishes your soul and is super important. Having a grumbly gut can cause us to fear social situations in case something goes wrong.
Strategies that can help:
Dont over think it! We often worry a lot about what might happen, instead of living in the moment. Think back over past situations and be rational about what actually happened. This will help you recognise if you need to worry and put strategies in place. Then when you are out and about pay attention to whats actually going on.
Make an effort to get out and about. Nine times out of ten, you will end up enjoying yourself even if you didnt think you wanted to go. Try not to bail out of a situation unless you know you need to stay next to the toilet.
Be honest with your close friends . Sharing whats going on can help reduce your anxiety. It also gives you a chance to plan activities with your friends that work better for your body. If you are scared of starting the conversation, send your friends this article.
Start small and ease back into it. If its been a while since you socialised, then start with a manageable activity. Catch up with a friend for a 15-minute stroll in the sunshine or a coffee. Then work your way up to dinner out or hosting a potluck.
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Anxiety Over What Were Eating
When you know that certain foods trigger your symptoms then its normal to be conscious about avoiding them. If you are over analysing every meal and fretting about each bite you take, then your anxiety might be hijacking your meals.
Things to remember:
Understand your FODMAP thresholds. Many high FODMAP foods are low FODMAP in small serves. This means that often one small bite of a high FODMAP food is unlikely to push you over your FODMAP threshold. So if something high FODMAP sneaks into your meal, remove what you can, then try not to fret about it! Also, make sure you work through the FODMAP reintroduction phase to learn exactly what your triggers are.
Plan ahead when eating out. This will ensure you have a meal you can enjoy without worrying.
Be mindful after you eat. Realise that some symptoms, like a talkative stomach or a little bit of bloating, are quite normal and might not lead to more extreme symptoms. If your worrisome thoughts are replaying like a broken record, stop and recognise them, then just let the thought go like a passing car.
Know when to seek help. If fretting about food has taken over your life then it might be time to transition off dietary therapy and consider gut hypnotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy instead. Make sure you talk to your medical team about other strategies that might help.
The Link Between Panic Disorder Anxiety And Ibs
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Irritable bowel syndrome, or simply IBS, is a type of gastrointestinal condition that disrupts the colon and causes problems in the digestive system. IBS is estimated to affect between 10 to 15 percent of people worldwide. The symptoms of IBS can vary for different people.
Although IBS is not a life-threatening illness, it often develops into a chronic condition that can greatly impact many aspects of ones life.
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Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treatment
The goal of IBS treatment is to provide relief from your symptoms. Your exact course of treatment will depend on the type and severity of your symptoms.
The success of the treatment often depends on having a good understanding of what IBS is and how it is treated. Fortunately, there are dietary, pharmacologic and behavioral approaches that can help, and they should be individualized to you. So ask your doctor lots of questions and help your doctor get to know what is important to you. Patients with better relationships with their medical provider often report that they have better symptom control.
Many patients worry about their symptoms and what will happen to them in the future. IBS is troubling and uncomfortable, but the condition itself does not increase your risk of any future health difficulties.
Treatment of IBS and associated symptoms may include:
- Dietary changes
- Alternative therapies
Give Yourself Time To Prepare If You Have Ibs
To reduce your own potential economic loss, Roberts suggests giving yourself time to prepare for work. He has IBS, and gives himself at least two hours to get ready in the morning. Once at work, he does the best he can to deal with IBS symptoms.
“I roll with the punches,” says Roberts. “My IBS is quite severe. I deal with it with some medications, but I also deal with it by realizing that I’m going to have some bad times, and I’m going to have some good times.”
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Why Ibs Causes Emotional Stress And How To Manage It
Learn about the brain-gut connection, plus coping strategies including therapy, mindfulness and hypnosis from a Michigan Medicine psychologist.
Your brain and your gut constantly communicate with each other.
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And sometimes they overshare, says Michigan Medicine clinical psychologist Megan Riehl, PsyD., M.A.
That oversharing irritates the brains of patients with functional bowel disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome, where organs are free of structural abnormalities but problems such as cramping, diarrhea or constipation still occur.
Nerve endings along the pathway between the brain and the gut are extremely sensitive in these patients, Riehl says.
As a result, their brains have a difficult time regulating during stressful periods and also during the process of digestion, says Riehl, also an assistant professor at the University of Michigan specializing in gastrointestinal disorders.
Consider Simple Ways To Relax
Because anxiety and stress are often strong triggers for IBS, simply keeping on top of things and allowing extra time for packing can alleviate some of its symptoms.
Any stress can throw off your gastrointestinal tract. There is definitely a brain-gut connection, Dr. Kirsh says. The gastrointestinal tract is more connected to the brain than any other organ system.
So plan ahead. Make a packing list before your trip to ensure youve packed everything youll need. Begin packing and making arrangements for travel, such as boarding pets, a day earlier than necessary to give yourself extra time for your departure.
Use simple stress reduction techniques to help calm your nerves before you embark. Try one or more of these:
- Listening to your favorite music.
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Treatments For Ibs And Related Anxiety
While fiber supplements, dietary changes, exercise, and antispasmodic medications may help the intestinal aspects of IBS, you also need to treat the related anxiety.
TheBritish Society of Gastroenterology recommends psychotherapy to treat IBS when you have a history of anxiety, panic attacks, and/or depression along with gut problems. The American College of Gastroenterology concurs, indicating therapy can reduce both anxiety and IBS symptoms in some patients. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a specific technique that teaches you to be more aware of your triggers and how to cope with them.
Self-help tips such as stress reduction and meditation are also useful in altering serotonin levels, but if you find youre still having difficulty, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to help manage your symptoms.
IBS and anxiety are definitely connected, but theres no reason you need to suffer from either. Give GI Physicians Inc. a call at 419-419-5138, orschedule a consultation online, and let us help you manage your conditions so you can return to a normal life.
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How Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Connected To Anxiety
Numerous theories exist about how anxiety, stress, and irritable bowel syndrome are connected.
Some of the common discomforts of this disorder include digestive problems, and other gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and stomach pain.
As you might imagine, this health condition can be not only uncomfortable and inconvenient but also embarrassing.
Unfortunately, anxiety and stress can intensify the symptoms of this disorder. Its believed that your body produces and releases hormones that affect your stomach and intestines when youre stressed out or in an anxious state of mind.
These hormones can cause flareups and increase sensitivity and inflammation, as they change the bacterial balance in your gut. When this happens, abdominal pain, discomfort, and irregular bowel movements are not uncommon.
The troubles of irritable bowel syndrome and anxiety may increase to immense proportions when combined with eating foods suspected of contributing to gut pain and gastrointestinal discomfort.
When a flareup occurs, IBS symptoms can last from two to five days, and they often stop as suddenly as they arrived.
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How Are Ibs And Anxiety Related
Your brain and your gastrointestinal symptoms are linked, by a communication system in your body called the gut-brain axis. In other words, when your nervous system experiences stress, that reaction impacts your GI tractand vice versa.
When you feel anxious, the stress hormones making you feel that way could be transmitted to your guttriggering the physical symptoms people often call nervous stomach, those sudden bowel movements when youre upset. Or, when regular stomach cramps make you feel like you might need to rush to the bathroom at any time, your mood will likely be impacted. Simple things like a night out with friends or going on a long car drive can increase stress and social anxiety. Its difficult to know which comes firstthe anxiety, or IBS symptoms.
The cause and effect in medicine is really hard to establish, at most what we can establish is association, Dr. Farhadi says. Anxiety is highly associated with IBS, and IBS is highly associated with anxiety. Whether IBS is causing anxiety, or anxiety is causing IBS has yet to be proved. Its like the chicken and egg conundrum.
Anxiety and IBS can exacerbate each other, says Dr. Clarke. Studies show that depression and generalized anxiety disorder are more prevalent in patients with IBS, in comparison to the general population.
Confide In Your Companions
Dealing with IBS is hard enough. Dont make it worse for yourself by trying to hide your distress from your traveling companions. If you will need special accommodations, speak up! You have a legitimate medical disorder and therefore you have a right to make sure that you will be as comfortable as possible.
Remember, most people have a true desire to be helpful. IBS is very common, so you might be surprised to find out that someone else is dealing with the very same thing. You can simply say, “I have a digestive disorder that sometimes causes me to get sick when I travel. Therefore I need to be careful about what I eat, and I may need to spend some extra time in the bathroom.”
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