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Can Stress Cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Ask a Doctor

I have a job as an executive for a mid-sized company. I was recently promoted to take on more responsibility. It seems as if every time I have to make a big presentation, I start getting gassy and have frequent bowel movements, if not outright diarrhea. I’m wondering if stress is the cause. Can stress cause irritable bowel syndrome?

Doctor’s Response

The cause of irritable bowel syndrome is unclear. Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome may worsen during periods of stress or during menstruation, but these factors are unlikely to be the cause that leads to the development of IBS. Avoiding activities that cause stress or anxiety may prevent IBS symptoms from occurring. IBS and its symptoms can be relieved or at least improved with non-medical and food-related therapies. Relieving stress and anxiety will help improve IBS symptoms.

Exercise for IBS

  • Moderate exercise seems to help with IBS. A moderate exercise program showed an improvement of IBS symptoms in one research study. During exercise it is important to stay hydrated and keep the exercise at a moderate level.

Yoga to reduce stress and anxiety

  • Yoga has shown to improve IBS symptoms. Well-trained yoga practitioners will be able to take you through a yoga practice that not only relieves stress but also can specifically work on your digestive system.

Meditation and mindfulness to reduce stress and anxiety

  • Meditation decreases stress and anxiety. It has also been linked with a decrease in IBS symptoms.

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