An introduction to IBS and panic attacks
People suffering from IBS may be more prone to panic attacks. These can be described as a sudden, intense bout of anxiety and can produce pronounced physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, tremor and in severe cases hyperventilation, choking and nausea.
Panic attacks can be so severe that in some instances, people believe they are having a heart attack. If you want to learn more about panic attacks, please refer to our Stress and Anxiety Health Hub.
Why does IBS cause panic attacks?
An urgent need for the toilet is a common scenario for people suffering from IBS.
People may have been caught off guard in the past, needing to use the toilet when none can be found nearby – a good cause for panic. An episode of incontinence may even have been a result. The fear of a similar situation recurring can trigger a panic attack.
Unfortunately, in someone with IBS, a vicious cycle can result where the presence of recurring digestive issues can cause panic attacks and an episode of panic can then result in the onset of more punishing physical symptoms.
People suffering from IBS are more prone to stress and on the other hand, people who are prone to panic attacks, anxiety, stress, low mood or depression are more likely to suffer from IBS. In the body there is a robust brain-gut connection which may explain why these two areas can have such a large influence on each other. Stress in the gut can quickly be communicated to the brain and affect our mood and stress response. Read our blog on how stress may cause you digestive issues.
In this page, we focus on how IBS can cause panic attacks but if you think your panic attacks may be resulting in the incidence of IBS please follow the link to read more about psychological factors and IBS.
What can I try at home for panic attacks?
There may be a few simple steps you can take at home to help control your panic attacks:
- Relax: Busy lifestyles can increase the risk of feeling anxious and having panic attacks. Take time out to par-take in activities you enjoy and avoid worrying thoughts. Relaxing our minds will mean we are less likely to have a panic attack triggering associated IBS symptoms
- Cut out caffeine: Caffeine encourages the release of adrenaline, which can encourage sweating and heart palpitations, the nasty symptoms associated with panic attacks we are trying to avoid! Try switching your tea, coffee and soft drinks for a coffee substitute or a soothing herbal tea. Caffeine can also directly irritate the gut so best to avoid where possible
- Exercise: Exercise encourages the release of feel good neurotransmitters called endorphins, which can positively effects our mood. Exercise may also help to take our mind off panicky thoughts
- Plan ahead: Panic attacks, especially when linked to IBS, can be made worse if we are disorganised and have not thought ahead. Planning where you will be and what you need during the day can help a great deal. Working out where the nearest toilet is throughout your day can make a big difference and help you relax.
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How can herbal remedies help me?
For people suffering from anxiety as a result of IBS, there are some herbal products out there specifically designed to help.
- Silicol gel: If IBS is the cause of our panic attacks, we should try and address the fundamental issue first. Try using a supplement containing silicic acid such as Silicol gel. This acts as a protective barrier for the digestive tract, soothing and calming the walls of the intestine
- Stress Relief drops: Next, there are herbs that may help to address the panic attacks directly. The A.Vogel Stress Relief drops contain a synergistic combination of two herbs, Valerian and Hops which have been used traditionally to help deal with anxiety disorders such as panic attacks.
How can my doctor help?
If home and herbal remedies fail to give you the help you need, a trip to your doctor may be in order. The focus of your treatment may be to address the IBS first; although generally conventional treatments do not get to the root of the problem.
Your doctor may suggest a type of behavioural treatment such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help address stress levels. Anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications may be prescribed if necessary but beware of any side effects which may exacerbate IBS symptoms.