Understanding Stress

Stress is referred to as a psychological phenomenon. However, stress should also be seen as any disturbance of a person’s homeostasis, or state of balance.  Any unpredictable onset of abdominal pain can be a physical stressor. In addition, any worry that the pain will occur can be known as a psychological stressor.  Many people suffering from IBS experience both physical and psychological stressors.
 
Stress is a major issue for many with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Fear of leaving the house or finding a bathroom in time or having an embarrassing accident in public can be debilitating and stressful.
 
Your body releases chemicals in the brain (e.g. corticotropin), which can bring about an integrated autonomic, behavior, neuroendocrine, and pain modular response. This biological response will alter the body’s brain-gut interaction and can worsen IBS symptoms. Thus, pain and discomfort, fear of these symptoms, activation of the stress response, and modulation of the brain-gut interactions are part of a vicious cycle that needs to be interrupted to provide symptom relief.
 
There are various types of stressors, which may impact IBS symptoms. These may be physical (e.g., infection, surgery) and/or psychological (e.g., loss of a job, divorce) in origin. Stress, the body’s response to stimuli, has been shown to increase motility and sensation of the colon to a greater degree in IBS patients compared to healthy individuals without IBS.
 
Addressing stressors that may be associated with IBS symptoms is the first step in understanding the relationship between stress and IBS. People suffering from IBS should work with their health care providers in developing a management plan to address these issues effectively, when present, in order to decrease symptoms and improve the overall quality of life.
 

Last modified August 2021

Adapted from IFFGD Publication #277 “Got Stress” By: Evon Stone Rubsenstein, C-IAYT 

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IFFGD is a nonprofit education and research organization. Our mission is to inform, assist, and support people affected by gastrointestinal disorders.

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