The relationship between IBS and stress

These days, those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have more choice than ever before when it comes to medication, and of course, this comes from doctors understanding more about the condition and how to treat it. One issue that is becoming more understood, is the relationship between IBS and stress.

20% of people in the UK have IBS

It is estimated that around 2 in 10 people in the UK have irritable bowel syndrome*, with episodes occurring six or more times a year. Just how long these flare-ups will last and their severity, depends on the person.

Most people that suffer from IBS will have had their first episode by the age of 30, although a person can actually develop the condition at any age. Interestingly, women are twice as likely to develop (or at least report) symptoms of IBS.

The links between IBS and stress have been established, but while stress does not cause the condition it can make symptoms worse. Other stressors include:

  • Stressful situations and major life events
  • Eating certain foods; for example, fatty foods
  • Taking certain antibiotics

The symptoms of IBS can vary from mild to being severe enough that have an impact on daily life. There is no cure for the condition, but there are steps that can be taken to reduce and manage symptoms by tackling how various lifestyle factors such as stress affects IBS.

Taking an honest look at stress levels can offer up opportunities to reduce the amount of stress that you are undergoing.  “Stress” is a term used by doctors to describe perfectly normal responses within the body that are required for basic health and survival in a sometimes hostile world.

Understanding these responses that are called upon during stressful moments could provide some important insights into the root causes of IBS and possibly pave the way to new treatments.

One way, for instance, to understand IBS and stress is that there is an increased GI (gastrointestinal) response to this stress. What is stress in this context? Essentially, anything that can irritate the GI tract, such as:

  • Hormonal change
  • Psychological stress
  • Diet
  • Physical activity

There is evidence that keeping stress controlled can ease, or even prevent, the symptoms of IBS. Stress can ‘popup’ from either an actual or perceived event that interferes with the delicate balance that exists between mind and body.

Relaxation techniques are relatively simple to learn and they can include strategies such as taking deep breaths and imagining a serene scene (called visualisation) at times of stress. Exercise has also been shown to help release ‘feelgood’ hormones that combat IBS and stress. Here’s 10 stress busters from The NHS website.

*Source – https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg61/chapter/Introduction

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