I don’t need to be the one to tell you that Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS for short, is just plain awful.
The stomach cramps, sudden urge to use the bathroom and the fear of not knowing when the symptoms will strike isn’t even half of the story of IBS.
Anxiety – our body’s way of responding to stress and a nightmare in and of itself – is closely related to the gastrointestinal disorder.
Normally, we don’t think twice about how our brains control our stomachs or vice versa, but in the case of IBS patients, you need to pay close attention to what your stomach is trying to tell you.
Linking the Brain and Stomach
So how in the world do our stomach and brains communicate?
A fair question.
Certain IBS symptoms seem to appear as a result of miscommunication in the brain-gut axis, the line of communications between our gastrointestinal tract and our brain.
The result is slower (constipation) or accelerated (diarrhea) bowel transit times – sometimes rapidly alternating between the two.
Researchers believe that this might explain why roughly 50% of all IBS patients experiencing chronic abdominal discomfort experience a myriad of seemingly inexplicable “all-in-your-head” psychological problems.
Researchers in Taiwan observed medical records of almost 5,000 patients over a period of six years after being diagnosed with IBS. Previously, none of the patients had exhibited symptoms of any form of psychological disorder.
Follow-up examinations proved what we already know.
They found that their test subjects had a greater likelihood of developing mental health disorders like anxiety.
This is in line with psychology professor Edward Blanchard’s view that almost 60% of all IBS patients meet the criteria for at least one psychological disorder.
Can Anxiety Cause IBS?
Seeing as how numerous IBS cases also exhibit symptoms of anxiety disorder, is it safe to say that IBS caused by anxiety is a real thing?
In short, no.
There is no proof that anxiety-induced IBS exists. In fact, no psychological problem has been found to cause IBS.
Scientists have yet to discover the root cause(s) of IBS.
Some studies suggest that a faulty gene, at least in women, may hold the answer to this unanswered question, but the researchers did not point the finger of blame at a specific gene.
Until science can definitively establish that psychiatric conditions – or any condition for that matter – triggers IBS, or until a cure is found, we’ll have to learn to cope with this chronic illness.
IBS and Other Psychiatric Problems
I’m sad to say that IBS isn’t just associated with generalized anxiety disorder. There’s hardly a mood disorder that IBS doesn’t link hands with.
At least 30% of those with IBS might be familiar with its link to depression.
Depression is a serious yet common mood disorder characterized by a persistent feeling of grief, a loss of interest, a loss of energy, and/or behavioral changes.
Depression often occurs alongside other serious illnesses, including IBS, which tends to worsen the patient’s condition. The level or type of depression varies from person to person, but they should all be treated as equally important.
If someone you know is suffering from depression, make sure to get them the help they need.
The same study conducted in Taiwan found that apart from anxiety, bipolar disorder was another psychiatric problem afflicted many of their test subjects.
Patients with bipolar disorder will experience significant mood swings. At one moment, they can be as happy as a clam (manic episodes) and the next they might feel that nothing is worth living for (depressive episodes).
Even though it’s possible to live a normal life with bipolar disorder – e.g. marry, have children, hold a job – a patient may require mood-stabilizing drugs to keep their mood swings in check.
Having trouble sleeping is common in those suffering from IBS or any form of long-lasting pain. It’s also commonly found in sufferers of other gastrointestinal conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease.
The severity of sleep deprivation in IBS patients varies from case to case depending on a number of different factors.
Medication may not be necessary in dealing with sleeping difficulties in IBS patients.
There are a number of “exercises” you can do at home to relax and possibly prevent painful flare-ups.
You could also consult with your doctor to see whether taking molecular hydrogen supplements could be beneficial and lead to improvements of mood, anxiety, and autonomic nerve function in daily life.
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But perhaps the most shocking finding is that quite a large number of IBS patients have suicidal thoughts. These thoughts typically appear when patients are experiencing a particularly unbearable symptom flare-up.
The survey found that 11% of IBS patients in North America and Europe admitted to thinking that death was the only way out of their condition.
I’m asking you to please pay attention to your own mental wellbeing if you're an IBS patient, and to support those around you suffering from IBS. Make sure you give them the help they need.
IBS itself is a not life-threatening disease, but the effects of its effects can send a person in a seemingly neverending downward spiral.
The idea that anxiety causes IBS is a misconception – nobody is certain where IBS comes from – but it’s common for patients to suffer from anxiety, IBS, and even depression and IBS simultaneously.
If you suffer from IBS, it might be a good idea to consult with your doctor to see if treating any underlying mental health issues could be beneficial to your symptoms.