Week 1: Understanding irritable bowel syndrome

Week 4: Healthy thinking, healthy self

Week 5: Balancing activity and reclaiming your life

Week 6: Maintaining your gains and staying well

Irritable bowel syndrome and mental health

In the previous section, we discussed the impact of irritable bowel syndrome on people’s quality of life. Whichever life domain you consider, irritable bowel syndrome causes distress and disruption for the sufferer. It goes without saying that this type of impact is unhelpful for positive emotional and psychological wellbeing. There is evidence to suggest that there are higher rates of mental health issues amongst people with irritable bowel syndrome. Omn

Below, we discuss a few of the mental health conditions that have been linked to irritable bowel syndrome. Please note, we are not saying these conditions cause irritable bowel syndrome, nor are we saying that irritable bowel syndrome causes them. But for some people, multiple conditions can occur together. In such cases, one condition can make the other one worse and complicate recovery. The below mental health conditions are worth being aware of.

Depression

Depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Around 60% of patients with irritable bowel syndrome will receive a diagnosis of depression at some point in their life. Depression can worsen irritable bowel syndrome by making you more sensitive to pain and acting as a barrier to lifestyle change. irritable bowel syndrome can also worsen depression, by reinforcing the cycle of low mood, impaired functioning and withdrawal.   

Panic disorder

There is evidence of some overlap between irritable bowel syndrome and panic disorder. Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder with sudden episodes of intense fear and severe physical reactions without an apparent cause. The two conditions share some common symptoms, including diarrhea, stomach discomfort, nausea, and avoidance behaviours. 

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

Research suggests that people with irritable bowel syndrome may be more prone to experiencing GAD. GAD is another anxiety disorder, characterised by constant tension and worry about a wide range of situations. Like irritable bowel syndrome, GAD is considered to be a chronic condition with symptoms that fluctuate in severity over time. Both conditions are reactive to stress and involve sensitivity to gut-brain disturbances. They also result in similar types of behaviours (e.g., worry and avoidance), which impair everyday functioning. 

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

People with irritable bowel syndrome are more likely to have a history of trauma and abuse. As such, some researchers suggest a link between PTSD and irritable bowel syndrome. PTSD occurs when someone experiences a traumatic reaction to a terrifying or distressing event. Following the event, the person goes on to develop symptoms like flashbacks or vivid memories of the event, avoidance behaviours, feeling on edge, and changes in mood. The two conditions are both linked to alterations in the body’s stress response system.