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Is IBS a Mental Illness & What is the Link Between the Two?

There are various types of anxiety and stress symptoms that you may experience in your body. Stomachache is one of the most common symptoms of anxiety. If the anxiety levels increases, the stomachache can become severe and lead to severe pain and cramps in the stomach. It is important to understand the difference between a simple case of upset stomach and a stomachache driven by anxiety. Let us try to explore the possible relation between the anxiety, stress and IBS.

It is clear that anxiety cannot cause any type of digestive problems or disorder but the chances of anxiety are higher in case of IBS patients. Increased level of stress and anxiety will make you think more about the spasms in the colon. Moreover, when your mind is under stress, it can influence the working of immune system to trigger IBS.

Is IBS a Mental Illness?

Is IBS a Mental Illness?

There is no substantial proof that IBS is actually a mental illness. One of the reasons for the occurrence of IBS is the complex biological interaction occurring between the gut and the brain.

Irritable Bowel Symptoms (IBS) is a common stomach disorder that can happen to anyone in any age group. The common symptoms of IBS include constipation, gas, bloating, diarrhea and pain in stomach.

Most experts agree that people who are experiencing IBS are easier candidates of stress. Also, their colon is more sensitive to certain types of food. IBS can lead to lot of abdominal pain that can be very uncomfortable. But, it does not cause any type of disease or severe damage to the intestines.

The occurrence of anxiety and depression is common in the case of IBS patients and it can make the symptoms worse. The functioning of the colon is directly controlled by the nervous system and thus any type of stress can worsen the symptoms. IBS also makes you feel depressed and anxious.

Link Between IBS and Mental Illness

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) leads to improper functioning of the digestive system leading to pain in the stomach. It can also have a serious impact on the quality of your living by causing the alternation in the bowel habits. There are various studies that suggest that IBS can degrade the brain circuits and make it difficult to concentrate. You may also go through emotional disturbances and pain modulation.

The recent studies suggest that IBS has a strong connection with mental illnesses/psychiatric disorders such as panic disorder, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia. The future screening and treatment options for IBS will take into account psychiatric disorders. Thus, the genetic, social and psychological factors cannot be ruled out while considering a case of IBS.

Some experts believe that certain disturbing life events such as divorce or family death can lead to IBS. There is another group of experts who believe that IBS leads to development of different psychiatric disorders. There are numerous cases where IBS is accompanied by various types of panic disorders, depressions, anxiety, dysthymia and more.

Ways to Cope With Anxiety to Manage Symptoms of IBS:

It has now been proven that you can manage the symptoms of IBS by controlling the level of stress and anxiety. There are various methods by which you can control stress and anxiety such as deep breathing, meditation and visualization. Socializing with your family and friends is a good way to keep any stress and anxiety away. You can also indulge yourself in the activities that you enjoy such as shopping or listening to music. Make sure that you maintain a diet that is suitable for IBS. Making sure that you get good amount of sleep also helps in preventing stress. You can find various techniques and methods that can help you manage stress.

If you are unable to control the symptoms, it is best to seek proper advice and treatment from doctor. The best way is to first talk to your primary care physician and then approach other medical experts such as a psychologist if required.

Treatment for IBS

It is true that experts have not been able to find any cure for IBS, you can manage the symptoms by adopting the right treatment option. It is unfortunate to know that more than 70 percent of the people experiencing IBS do not receive proper treatment. Even those who are receiving the treatment tend to have depression or anxiety disorders.

For the best management of symptoms of IBS, you need to try one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Controlling constipation by adding laxatives and fiber supplements to your diet.
  • Managing the signs of cramps and abdominal pain by taking suitable antispasmodic medication.
  • Managing the symptoms of depression and anxiety by using antidepressants.
  • You can manage depression and anxiety easily with the help of cognitive-behavioral therapy. In the case of IBS patients who have a history of depression and panic attacks, the treatment must focus on psychological therapy as the primary measure. It is an effective therapy to maintain anxiety and control the symptoms of IBS.
  • You need to take proper sleep and relax to control your stress.


  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases – Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome
  2. NCBI – The Brain-Gut Axis and Psychiatric Disorders: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/
  3. Mayo Clinic – Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Treatment https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20360064
  4. Verywell Mind – Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for IBS: https://www.verywellmind.com/cognitive-behavioral-therapy-for-ibs-1945152

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 8, 2023

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