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Brain Body Well ~ Natural & Lifestyle Medicine / Digestive Wellness / Mental Health

IBS, Digestive Symptoms and Anxiety: What's the Connection?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), digestive symptoms and anxiety often go hand in hand. It's not uncommon for people with IBS to experience anxiety, and conversely, for people with anxiety to also suffer from IBS. This bidirectional connection between gut and stress symptoms can create a vicious cycle, with one condition exacerbating the other and vice versa.

What's the connection between IBS and anxiety?

Well, let's start with IBS. This is a common gastrointestinal disorder characterized by symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. These symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and can greatly impact a person's quality of life.

Anxiety on the other hand is a normal human emotion we all experience from time to time. However, when anxiety becomes excessive and persistent, it can interfere with daily life and be classified as an anxiety disorder. Common symptoms of anxiety include racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, and physical symptoms such as a racing heart, sweating, and muscle tension.

So, how do IBS and anxiety feed into each other?

For people with IBS, the physical discomfort and disruption of daily life caused by their symptoms can lead to feelings of anxiety and worry. This describes the psychological impact, however there are biological mechanisms that impact mental health and anxiety as well. Changes in gut bacteria, nutrient absorption, inflammation and gut neurotransmitters assocaited with IBS also influence stress levels and can contribtue to feelings of anxiety (as well as depression).

On the other hand, people impacted by anxiety experience physilogical changes that impact gut function and health. These include increased heart rate, spikes in stress hormones like adrenaline, increased blood flow to muscles and away from the digestive system and changes in muscle tension.  These stress related changes in hormones, brain chemicals and physiology alter gut bacteria, intestinal motility (movements) and can promote inflammation. These changes lead to symptoms like bloating, nausea, diahrrhea and constipation and may contribute to the diagnosis of IBS.

It's important to note that while IBS and anxiety can be connected, they are two distinct conditions and should be treated as such. Working with a health practitioner who can identify the underlying causes of both anxiety and IBS will help you to understand your symptoms and how to move forward. Looking for professional help with IBS symptoms and anxiety? Get in touch today and book a free intial chat.

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