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.

A male in a kitchen looking out of a window, with kitchen equipment in the background. Research suggests IBS and anxiety are linked.Share on Pinterest
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IBS and anxiety may share a similar genetic link, according to a 2021 study.

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.

A 2021 meta-analysis also noted that people with depression and anxiety have a higher chance of developing IBS compared with those who do not have either condition. The likelihood of comorbidity of the two conditions led the authors of a 2017 study to recommend screening people diagnosed with IBS for anxiety and depression.

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 2020 study also explored the relationship between the immune system, IBS, and anxiety. An increase in mast cells and eosinophils was found in the GI systems of youths with IBS. These cells are important in how the immune system responds to infections and triggers the body’s inflammatory response (which is implicated in IBS). The presence of these cells was also associated with anxiety and depression.

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.

Learn more about the link between gut health and anxiety.

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.

There are three main types:

  • 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.

Learn more about how to know if you have IBS.

Some common anxiety symptoms include:

Learn more about symptoms and signs of anxiety.

The exact cause of IBS is still unknown. Experts suspect that gastrointestinal issues, such as IBS, may result from communication issues between the gut and the brain. It may cause food to process too quickly or slowly, leading to the symptoms associated with IBS.

IBS is also likely the result of several different factors. These include:

Anxiety has several possible causes, including environmental and genetic factors. Experts indicate that some general causes may include:

  • 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 often recommend a combination of lifestyle changes and medical interventions.

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.

Learn more about treatments for IBS.

Anxiety treatment often involves medications, therapies, or a combination of both.

Some common treatment options a healthcare professional may recommend include:

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.