How are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and mental health related?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms cause more than just physical distress. IBS may make you feel stressed, depressed, anxious and frustrated, at least in part because symptoms may be embarrassing and not easy to talk about.

A common source of anxiety relates to the need to be near a toilet when the feeling of urgency develops. Some people with moderate to severe symptoms (including unpredictable pain, urgency and perhaps even bowel incontinence) find that IBS can affect many aspects of their lives. It may impact the ability to work, attend social events and travel and affect relationships with friends, family and sexual partners.

The colon is partly controlled by the nervous system. IBS often causes stress and stress often triggers more symptoms. This is an example of what researchers call the "mind-gut" connection. When areas of the brain that are influenced by stress are overwhelmed, the gastrointestinal tract is affected, causing pain and other symptoms. Then increased pain can cause further anxiety.

If you have IBS, your doctor may recommend a psychological evaluation and possible treatment, especially if you have severe symptoms that affect your quality of life. Questionnaires that detect anxiety, depression or other psychological conditions may be used to supplement your healthcare provider's evaluation of your symptoms. Psychological treatment, in addition to medical treatment, can break the vicious IBS symptom cycle.

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Mental health and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have been shown to be associated. People with IBS are more likely to have anxiety, depression and phobias. Psychosocial factors are an independent risk factor for developing IBS as well. It is unclear if there is a causal relationship, however, it is clear that often times IBS and mental health problems go hand in hand.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.