Can Stress and Anxiety Cause Bowel Problems?

No, stress and anxiety cannot cause bowel problems but they can surely trigger bowel problems such as irritable bowel syndrome. The process of digestion and the digestive tract is very complex. You cannot relate to many bowel related issues with stress and anxiety & you might find it difficult to explain anxiety to be the cause for bowel disorders. Yet, anxiety is often the reason for bowel issues like IBS. It is known that when a person is anxious the hormones get altered. This alteration in turn affects the digestion procedure like affecting the speed and increase a significant amount of pressure. The article here explains the relation of stress and anxiety with several bowel problems. One of the anxiety bowel problems is Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS.

Can Stress and Anxiety Cause Bowel Problems?

Relationship Between Stress and Anxiety with Diarrhea and Constipation

Anyone who is under severe stress and his or her digestive system is affected, is likely to experience diarrhea and constipation. Even though these two issues are very common, there is no proper reason leading their rise. It might be that the food we eat does not get digested properly when we are anxious and also the water intake to the intestines is altered. It often happens that the food is pushed very fast or doesn’t pass smoothly and takes a long time while moving through the digestive tract. It is already known that the neurotransmitters that control the actions of the gut also lead to the rise in anxiety levels in your mind. Therefore it can be that while the neurotransmitters are leading to the rise in anxious levels, there is a shortfall of the neurotransmitters to control the proper bowel functions, hence giving rise to issues like diarrhea and constipation.

Gas and Flatulence is Another Problem Which Arises from IBS and Bowel Syndromes

During the times of stress the body fails to process the food properly and such food leads to the formation of gas. It is also seen that during anxiety attacks you are prone to swallowing more air than usual due to hyperventilation. Sometimes, the air finds its way out through the bowel instead of the mouth since it is the excess air in the body.

Stool Discoloration Is Another Sign That Often Develops With Diarrhea

When you are under stress or suffering from anxiety, the food is pushed through your system very quickly. The food changes and obtains the usual stool color as it goes through the various steps of digestion. If the food stays in some organ for a long time or passes through any of the steps quickly, the usual color of the stool is not obtained. In such cases you may notice the stool color to be:

  • Yellow
  • Black
  • Greyish brown

If you notice the stool discolouration, contact a doctor. You should immediately seek for medical attention if you notice blood in your stool. Often the reason for this is development of stress which makes the food pass through your digestive system in an unusual pace.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

According to some, IBS or irritable bowel syndrome is caused due to stress and you may find a disorder extremely linked to stress and anxiety. Even though some others say that stress has nothing to do with IBS, patients are often found to undergo panic attacks when or after suffering from IBS. Like all other bowel related syndromes, IBS also gives rise to symptoms like gas, diarrhea, stomach pain and huge discomfort. You must seek of medical help if such symptoms reappear constantly.

The "Need to Go"

Anxiety can lead to a feeling that you need to go to the loo even when if it is not the usual time for you to go to the bathroom. The reason behind it is that a pressure builds up in your body when the fight or flight system is activated and this pressure might make you feel that the stool wants to come out. Also more energy is used up by the body when you are in stress and thus there is shortage of energy that is used to hold the anal sphincter in place hence the stool might need to come out. Even though the evolutionary benefit is not yet found out, some researchers say that it is automatic that you feel the need to go to when you are anxious. According to this, the reason is that the body doesn’t need to waste any energy to hold the stool when your body is already requiring a lot of energy due to development of extreme fear or a fight or flight situation.

How to Overcome Bowel Problems Caused Due to Stress and Anxiety?

Always remember that eating healthy provides a lot of help for the bowels. It is difficult to treat any bowel related issues since bowel is an automatic process. One must try to eat the healthiest of foods so that the digestion system works properly and the bowel has to do very less work. You must choose to eat food which is high in fiber since healthier food is easier to digest even though not all bowel related problems are due to food. You can choose to avoid fried and fatty food as food which are harder to digest get affected more than the food that is easier to digest when anxiety affects your digestions system.

Another key reason for causing bowel problems is anxiety. If you can treat and decrease your level of anxiety then a lot of your bowel problems can be solved. Any kind of bowel problem is a reaction of the mental status of the patient. There are tests that can check your symptoms and give you an insight about your anxiety disorder. You can overcome the same with treatment.

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Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: August 3, 2017

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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