7 Signs It’s Not Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS), It’s Anxiety

As anyone with Irritable Bowel Sydrome (IBS) can tell you, it can be a total pain in the butt. You've probably heard of IBS, a somewhat "catch-all" diagnosis for gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, urgently feeling like you have to go, and a whole host of other symptoms that can't be linked with something concrete. But, you may not be aware that researchers are learning that there are signs that your symptoms aren't IBS, they're anxiety.

Sometimes anxiety and IBS go hand in hand, which is not to say that your symptoms aren't real, but may very well lead to a cure for some sufferers. As notes, people with IBS often also suffer from mental illnesses including anxiety. This can make it hard to know if your IBS symptoms like an upset stomach, bloating, or diarrhea are caused by something physical or are actually linked to anxiety or stress, which might make them hard to treat. The Mayo Clinic website notes that people with IBS symptoms generally find relief through changes to their diets or medications. So, if you’ve tried everything, and still have IBS, it might be worth having a conversation with your doctor about anxiety.

As Harvard Health Publishing reports many people with IBS have found relief when they've added treatments like therapy, hypnosis, or relaxation techniques to their life. While IBS is generally viewed as a physical condition, the same site explains that there is a functional relationship between your brain and your GI tract known as the "brain-gut axis," which can mean that anxiety can literally give you a stomach ache, and IBS can make your anxiety worse, too. The good news is that effective treatments can often be found for people with IBS, but first, you need to find out the cause of your condition.

For more on way to know the difference between IBS and anxiety, read on:

Your Pain Is Seriously Bad

As the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders notes, pain from IBS is chronic — meaning it might seem to last forever. Unlike pain from illnesses or injuries, which goes away after treatment, IBS can literally change the way your brain feels pain, and as a result can cause you to have anxiety about it.

Because the same site notes that anxiety can also cause IBS symptoms, this can result in a never-ending cycle. The good news is that if your anxiety is causing your IBS, treating your anxiety can help stop this painful cycle, and make your tummy feel better, too.

The Timing Of Your Symptoms Matches Up


The Cleveland Clinic's website explains that the causes of IBS are not fully understood. Often, though, people who have been diagnosed with IBS, associate the condition with having a so-called "nervous stomach" or having other symptoms of anxiety. If your IBS symptoms like diarrhea, gas, pain, constipation, or urgently needing to use the bathroom seem to only happen when you are anxious, you might need to treat your anxiety, to find some relief.

Your Labs Are Inconclusive

The Mayo Clinic website notes that your doctor will likely order a pretty comprehensive set of tests and lab work to diagnose your IBS and rule out other potentially more dangerous conditions like cancer and food intolerances, which may cause similar symptoms.

As notes about 50 percent of people who have IBS also have anxiety. So, if physical tests are inconclusive, your doctor might also ask you screening questions related to stress, or mental health symptoms, to get down to the bottom of your IBS.

Stress Seems To Be A Trigger

As the Cleveland Clinic website notes, IBS symptoms can be caused by a whole host of underlying conditions. If you think you have IBS or have been diagnosed with the condition by your healthcare provider, it's a good idea to keep a journal of your symptoms, to track when pain, diarrhea, gas, or bloating happens, and what, if anything seems to help. If stress is anywhere on that list, it's totally worth talking to your doctor about how your symptoms might be anxiety and not stomach-related.

IBS Treatments Don't Work

The good news for IBS sufferers everywhere is that there are many effective treatment options, including diet changes, exercise, fiber, and medications per Mayo Clinic. If these don't seem to help, you might consider adding mental health care to your to do list.

You Have A History Of Trauma


As reported by Forbes, one study conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that people with IBS symptoms were much more likely to have experienced trauma than those who don't. As research author Yuri Saito-Loftus, noted traumatic experiences during childhood and beyond, including abuse, deaths in the family, or divorce, can resulting in lasting stress — and IBS symptoms — for people who may not have a clue about a connection between them.

Treating Your Anxiety Helps Your IBS Symptoms, Too

As Harvard Health Publishing reports, there is a functional relationship between your brain and your GI tract known as the "brain-gut axis." At a basic level, when you experience stress, your digestive system slows to allow your body to fight or flee. Unfortunately, since your brain doesn't know the difference between life-threatening danger and a bad day at work, anxiety can literally give you a stomach ache.

Fortunately, they also note that unsurprisingly, studies have found that treating underlying anxiety through therapy, hypnosis, and relaxation can also treat your IBS symptoms. And as notes, if anxiety is causing your tummy troubles, you might ask your doctor if antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication might help your stomach pain or difficult pooping, too.

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