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Stress and IBS

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Professor Lovat
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As discussed in the first article on IBS, stress is one of the many known factors that can exacerbate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Most people experience stress every day of their lives; how people deal with it, however, can vary enormously. Some people are motivated by a need to achieve, and thrive under pressurised conditions; others may be overwhelmed by what they experience in their day-to-day lives. Furthermore different people are affected by the same stressors (factors causing stress) in different ways: some people may be un-perturbed by losing their sunglasses before going out with their friends whereas other may see this as being “the end of the world”. These complications make treatment rather difficult!

Stressors can be acute (one-off) or chronic (long-term) and can be minor or severe. Generally acute stressors are not problematic as the chemical changes within the body are “undone” and the body returns to its normal state (homeostasis). Chronic stressors on the other hand can become harmful as the body cannot achieve homoeostasis.

Stress has been known to influence bowel habits for a long time, but only now are we beginning to understand the various ways in which this happens. The mechanisms of how it influences the gut, however, are very complicated. If you are interested in exploring this topic there are a large number of review articles: here is a link to one of them.

There are a large number of ways you can try and help relieve those irritating events in your life, to minimise the effects they have on IBS:

  • Therapy: The saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” is very true for any personal issue and IBS is not different! Unfortunately there is a stigma in having therapy, so many people don’t look for help. But therapists can offer a large variety of different tools and methods that people can use to help deal with stressful events. By discussing problems they can come up with a personalised routine for the IBS sufferer. A list of suggestions may significantly improve quality of life. A variety of different therapies can be useful including hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (see here for more).
  • Exercise: increasing daily activity can significantly reduce stress-levels by increasing the amount of endorphins in the blood. Endorphins can trigger a sense of “euphoria” and can also help reduce the sensation of pain. In addition to its stress-relieving effects, exercise can help improve energy levels, lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health
  • Be open about your condition with friends and family: Keeping emotions bottled up is unhelpful and can often worsen the situation by making the sufferer feel more self-conscious when IBS problems manifest themselves. Although the sufferer may feel embarrassed by the condition, there is nothing to be ashamed of. It can often be difficult to explain the situation to your family so attending a support group, or speaking to a doctor for advice on how to approach the topic, may be a good way to begin.
  • Sleep and relaxation: One of the most significant triggers is a lack of sleep. Although different people require different amounts of sleep, getting less than 6 hours a night is often un-healthy. Additionally taking time at the end of the day to wind down, for example by reading an enjoyable book, or by watching your favourite TV show might be a good idea.

Our experts at the London Gastroenterology Centre have years of experience in managing IBS. We also have access to the therapists people need. If you would like our help, please call 020 7183 7965 to make an appointment.

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