IBS and psychological factors

How do psychological factors impact IBS?


Alison Cullen
Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
@AVogelUK
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An introduction to IBS and psychological factors

In the body, a brain-gut axis has been described. This is basically a network of nerves connecting your gut and brain and helps explain why emotional issues such as stress and depression can have a detrimental effect on your gut, as it does with IBS. Often however, the cause and effects are unclear – your mental state or mood may impact your gut and vice versa.

In this section we discuss how improving your mental wellbeing can have a positive effect on IBS symptoms. If you suspect IBS is affecting your mood then please refer to how IBS may be contributing to your stress, anxiety, panic attacks or even depression.

Stress

It is commonly recognised that stress can exacerbate IBS symptoms

When you experience stress your sympathetic nervous system is activated – a state also known as the ‘fight or flight response’. This becomes dominant in times of stress as it tries to prepare your body for a physical event. The result is an increase in heart rate and blood is redirected from our digestive system to support your skeletal muscles. The muscles of the stomach and gut can become especially sensitive, resulting in a feeling of ‘butterflies’ often accompanied by nausea and diarrhoea as gut contractions become irregular.

It is believed that people with IBS may have a heightened response to stress, meaning during an episode of stress, physical IBS symptoms can suddenly emerge. Therefore, attempting to alleviate stress may be a positive step in managing your IBS.

Stress Relief Daytime drops contain a combination of two herbs, Valerian and Hops, which have been used traditionally to help people deal with stress.

If you are struggling to manage your symptoms, a trip to your doctor may be helpful. Your GP will be able to assess and advise you as appropriate.

Anxiety and panic attacks

Anxiety and panic attacks can have pronounced effects on our bodies. Anxiety, panic attacks and IBS share common symptoms including palpitations, sweating, dizziness, upset stomach and diarrhoea. In the presence of IBS and an anxiety-related problem, the symptoms can be quite overwhelming.

The relationship between psychological issues such as anxiety or panic attacks and IBS isn’t always clear cut and it can be difficult to establish a cause and effect. This is important for you as individual to try to comprehend but this may not be easy and can be very dependent on your circumstances. Attempting to address your anxiety or panic attacks can have a positive effect on your bowels so is definitely something to consider.

Valerian and Hops work well together in our Stress Relief Daytime drops for those struggling to cope with mild anxiety and stress.

Anti-anxiety medication can be prescribed by your doctor but beware of any side effects that may exacerbate your IBS symptoms.

Depression

It isn’t believed that IBS can independently cause depression or that depression can single-handedly cause IBS, although it seems likely the two are linked. In some cases the cause and effect may be more obvious.

Some anti-depressant medication has been shown to produce positive results in the treatment of IBS as they can regulate the activation of nerves controlling the gut.

Please note, suspected clinical depression should always be investigated by your doctor who will conduct an in-depth consultation and discuss the possible routes of treatment with you.

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