Irritable Bowel Syndrome Home > Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Stress

Because nerves connect the colon to the brain, stress and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are linked in a sense. Stress can worsen IBS because it can stimulate colon spasms. Also, research suggests that IBS is affected by the immune system, which is also affected by stress. Learning ways to manage stress, such as relaxation techniques and lifestyle changes, can help relieve IBS symptoms in some people.

Understanding Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Stress

Stress is defined as feeling mentally or emotionally tense, troubled, angry, or overwhelmed. It can have several effects on the body, including stimulating colon spasms in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The colon has a vast supply of nerves that connect it to the brain. These nerves control the normal, rhythmic contractions of the colon and cause abdominal (stomach) discomfort at stressful times.
Many people experience cramps or "butterflies" when they are nervous or upset. However, with irritable bowel syndrome, the colon can be overly responsive to even slight conflict or stress. Stress also makes the mind more tuned to the sensations that arise in the colon and makes the stressed person perceive these sensations as unpleasant.
Some evidence suggests that irritable bowel syndrome is affected by the immune system, which fights infection in the body. The immune system is also affected by stress. For all of these reasons, stress management is an important part of treatment for IBS.

Stress Management for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Stress management can consist of several things, such as:
  • Stress reduction (relaxation) training and relaxation therapies, such as meditation
  • Counseling and support
  • Regular exercise, such as walking or yoga
  • Changes to the stressful situations in your life
  • Getting adequate sleep.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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