Anxiety does not cause IBS, but it may worsen a person’s symptoms. Similarly, a person may experience anxiety-related IBS.
While seemingly unrelated, IBS and anxiety may share a link. Some evidence suggests that the two conditions share similar genetic pathways.
Other evidence suggests that the two conditions often occur together and may worsen each other’s symptoms.
This article reviews the potential links between IBS and anxiety, common symptoms, other possible causes, and more.
In reviewing the diagnoses of 53,000 people with IBS, researchers found that IBS and anxiety and mood disorders share similar genetic pathways and risk factors, which could explain why they often occur together.
They also noted that increasing abdominal symptom severity often correlated with increasing severity of anxiety symptoms.
Experts often describe anxiety and IBS as creating a “vicious cycle” where each one worsens the others. For example, a person may fear going out to eat with friends, fearing an “attack,” which causes them to experience worsening anxiety and symptoms of IBS.
A person with IBS may want to talk with a healthcare professional if they experience fear, worry, or similar feelings related to their IBS symptoms. They may be able to provide additional treatment options or recommend additional specialists to speak with.
IBS describes several symptoms related to each other. The two most common symptoms associated with IBS include pain in the abdomen, typically starting before, during, or after a bowel movement, and changes to a bowel movement.
- IBS with constipation (IBS-C): IBS-C refers to pain combined with constipation.
- IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D): IBS-D refers to pain combined with diarrhea.
- IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M): IBS-M refers to pain combined with diarrhea and constipation.
Symptoms may vary depending on the person and the exact underlying disorder.
Some common anxiety symptoms
- having difficulty concentrating
- feeling restless or on-edge
- fatigue or easily fatigued
- having unexplained headaches, muscle aches, stomachaches, or other pain
- trouble sleeping
- trouble controlling feelings of worry
The exact cause of IBS is still unknown. Experts
IBS is also likely the result of several different factors. These include:
- bacterial infections
- stressful early life events
- changes in bacteria in the small intestine
- food intolerances
Anxiety has several possible causes, including environmental and genetic factors. Experts indicate that some general causes
- history of other mental health disorders or other forms of anxiety
- feelings of distress or shyness in new situations as a child
- exposure to stressful events or environments
Similar to IBS, other health conditions, such as thyroid disorders, may also worsen anxiety in some people. Certain medications may also increase some people’s anxiety.
Treatment for IBS will vary based on a person’s symptoms. Healthcare professionals
Some lifestyle changes a person can make include:
- eating more fiber
- eating foods high in probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, or pickles
- getting more physical activity or exercise
- avoiding gluten
- getting enough sleep each night
- following a low FODMAP diet
- reducing stress and avoiding stressful situations
Medications that may help include:
Healthcare professionals may also recommend a person take probiotics or seek mental health treatment, such as relaxation training and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Mental health treatments may also help with anxiety symptoms as well.
Anxiety treatment often involves medications, therapies, or a combination of both.
Some common treatment options a healthcare professional
- mindfulness training
- relaxation techniques
- anxiety medications
- acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- support groups
A person may find that some treatments work better than others. It may take some time for a person to find the right combination of therapies to help manage their anxiety.
If a person experiences uncontrollable fear or worry that may interfere with work, school, or social events, talking with a healthcare professional is a necessary next step. Having these feelings may indicate the presence of an anxiety disorder.
Similarly, it’s important that a person with anxiety consider speaking with a healthcare professional if they develop abdominal pain along with diarrhea or constipation.
They may be able to offer a diagnosis, provide additional treatments, or recommend a person speak with additional specialists.
Anxiety and IBS may share a genetic link that makes it more likely that a person will develop both conditions. Research suggests worsening symptoms of one condition may correlate with worsening symptoms of the other.
A person can seek treatment for anxiety and IBS. In some cases, the treatments, such as CBT, may overlap with one another.