Anxiety and Depression May Be the Central Cause of Irritable Bowell Syndrome: Research


Irritable Bowel Syndrome, IBS, is a gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that changes how the GI tract works. While the GI tract isn’t damaged by the syndrome, IBS is characterized by serious abdominal pain that reappears over the course of 90 days.

In the past this disease was called spastic colon, colitis or even spastic bowel but it wasn’t until recently that there was acknowledgement that this disorder had both physical and mental origins.

Types of IBS

Someone with IBS has frequent urges to go to the bathroom that can alter someone’s social life and interactions. There are typically three types of IBS:

With Constipation – People with this kind of IBS have delayed or infrequent bowel movements and the stool can be lumpy and hard

With Diarrhea – The bowel movement urge is urgent and very frequent; stool is usually loose and watery.

Mixed – There are those who have mixed stool consistencies from the start but over time those with IBS wind up alternating between diarrhea and constipation.

Stomach pain and discomfort are part of the IBS package but those with mixed IBS should seek the help of a gastroenterologist.

IBS Causes

The causes of IBS vary and can include:

Signal Problems – The intestines are controlled by the signals between the brain and nerves. If there is a problem with is communication, the result can be pain and changes in bowel movements

Motility Issues – The motility of the colon may be abnormal in someone with IBS. For example, fast motility results in diarrhea, while slow motility means constipation. Some sufferers experience an acute increase in bowel muscle contractions in response to stress.

Bacteria – Intestinal bacteria is normal and beneficial to the intestine but sometimes the bacteria can increase and result in overgrowth that leads to IBS. In other cases, gastroenteritis, which is a bacterial irritation of the stomach and intestines, can also lead to IBS.

Hormones, especially in women during the menstrual period, genetics, and food sensitivity are also contributors.

Anxiety/Depression Link

While there are solid physical reasons for IBS, researchers have found that psychological diseases such as anxiety and depression are more significant drivers of IBS than once thought. Pro-inflammatory cytokines, specifically interleukin-6, were present in the blood of those with IBS.

Cytokines are secreted by the immune cells as a result of the body’s exposure to chronic anxiety and depression. The increase in inflammatory markers makes the case that anxiety and depression play a central role in IBS.



Mike Bundrant
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