If you’ve ever felt like your stomach was in knots after stressing over an upcoming test, you know the power your mind has to affect the rest of your body. April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month, and part of this awareness is exploring the connection between IBS and mental health.
IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder that is characterized by issues in the large intestine or colon, as well as the small intestine, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders website. Common symptoms include “abdominal pain or discomfort,” “bloating or a sense of gaseousness,” and “a change in bowel habits (diarrhea and/or constipation),” according to the website.
Although IBS is a physical condition and the exact cause hasn’t been found yet, experts have found a link between IBS and mental health issues. According to the website, IBS could be a result of an “increased gastrointestinal response to stress.” However, stress can be defined by anything ranging from “physical activity” to “psychological stress.”
The website states that mental health issues shouldn’t be considered as a primary cause of IBS, and sometimes patients who have IBS later on develop mental health issues. For example, patients might become anxious and stressed over their symptoms because they don’t have control over them and the consequences can be embarrassing. The website does also state that psychological and emotional issues can aggravate IBS symptoms.
The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) website also states that the colon can be sensitive to stress for people with IBS.
“Stress—feeling mentally or emotionally tense, troubled, angry, or overwhelmed—can stimulate colon spasms in people with IBS,” according to the website.
“People often experience cramps or ‘butterflies’ when they are nervous or upset. In people with IBS, the colon can be overly responsive to even slight conflict or stress. Stress makes the mind more aware of the sensations that arise in the colon, making the person perceive these sensations as unpleasant.”