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How can chronic stress affect irritable bowel syndrome?

Lawrence S. Friedman, MD
Gastroenterology
Stress is known to stimulate colon spasms in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The process is not completely understood, but scientists point out that the intestines are controlled partly by the nervous system. Some studies have shown significantly higher stress levels among people with IBS compared with healthy individuals. And stress reduction, relaxation training, and counseling have each helped relieve IBS symptoms in some people.
William B. Salt II., MD
Gastroenterology
Stress response may not be associated with conscious awareness or feeling of stress or anxiety. This helps explain why functional gut symptoms, such as stomach problems, may vary in severity from time to time, and why the symptoms that you experience may vary. For example, you may have lots of lower abdominal pain associated with constipation, diarrhea or both for a week or longer, and then have the symptoms lessen or disappear for a while. Your symptoms can also migrate from one body system to another, or from one part of the gut to another. For example, you may experience gut symptoms for months or years, only to find that -- one day -- these symptoms lessen, and new, different symptoms arise in their place, such as those of fibromyalgia (widespread aching, pain and fatigue). Or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms may be replaced by functional dyspepsia, which is pain or discomfort centered in the upper abdomen.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome & the MindBodySpirit Connection: 7 Steps for Living a Healthy Life with a Functional Bowel Disorder, Crohn's Disease, or Colitis (Mind-Body-Spirit Connection Series.)

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome & the MindBodySpirit Connection: 7 Steps for Living a Healthy Life with a Functional Bowel Disorder, Crohn's Disease, or Colitis (Mind-Body-Spirit Connection Series.)

Fast Facts on IBS: One in five people suffers from the frustrating symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). There is no simple answer--no pill, potion, or quick fix--that will cure IBS. But help...

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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.