Can Stress Cause Diarrhea? IBS, Stress, & Poop

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We all deal with problems in the bathroom. Often, we do not seek medical advice or helpful treatment because diarrhea can be embarrassing.

More than half of all Americans have diarrhea in any given year, and those are just the reported cases. About 4 billion cases of diarrhea are reported each year globally. If you have diarrhea, you are not alone. You are not even in the minority!

You may ask, “How do I stop pooping?” Anxiety and stress may play a key role in any digestive issues. Treating this anxiety and stress at their roots should give you control over your bowel movements.

Other causes of diarrhea may include:

  • Food allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances (for example, lactose intolerance or celiac disease)
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • Food poisoning or other infection
  • Eating foods that “upset your stomach”
  • Surgery on a part of your digestive system
  • Medication side effects
  • Laxative overuse
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, other intestinal diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer or radiation therapy
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth

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But for now, we will focus on whether stress and anxiety are triggering your diarrhea — and how to treat the root cause.

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The Stress/Diarrhea Connection

For many decades, scientists have known that stress (synonymous with anxiety, whether due to an anxiety disorder or concerns of daily life) is linked to diarrhea and other digestive diseases.

How does stress give you diarrhea?

When you experience stress, your body answers with a “fight or flight” response. Your heart races, your muscles tense, your large intestine loosens, and you feel hyper-aware of your surroundings.

This “fight or flight” response is meant for temporary situations. Unfortunately, most Americans deal with chronic stress — those everyday stressors like deadlines, money, the news, family, medical problems, and major life changes.

The body’s answer to stressful circumstances is great for short-term coping. But if your body continues to “respond” to stress every day, it can lead to some serious issues, not the least of which is diarrhea.

Your stomach and gastrointestinal tract have their own nervous system, called the enteric system. This is like a brain in your gut. The enteric system is what regulates bowel movements (among other digestive functions), and it can be pushed to its limits by chronic stress.

In humans and animals, stress early on in life can lead to chronic diarrhea later in life. Fortunately, there are simple ways to stop diarrhea caused by stress and anxiety.

How to Stop Anxiety Diarrhea

Does anxiety cause bowel problems? Yes, stress and anxiety have a strong link to diarrhea. (Read below to learn more about the stress-IBS-IBD connection.)

There are some simple dietary and lifestyle changes that can make a huge difference in your bathroom routine. Cutting out inflammatory foods and finding ways to relieve stress may even stop your bowel disorders.

On a side note, diarrhea can lead to dehydration. So any attempt to treat diarrhea should include drinking a lot of fluids with electrolytes to ameliorate the damage already done.

Cut Out “Comfort Foods”

It is unfortunate that many who deal with anxiety-related diarrhea never receive formal dietary advice. Avoiding the triggering foods can prevent a flare up.

At PrimeHealth, we recommend patients dealing with irritable bowel syndrome (a common cause of diarrhea) go on the Low-FODMAP diet or another elimination diet.

Many so-called “comfort foods” contain dairy, one of the most inflammatory foods you can consume. Up to 65% of the world’s population are lactose intolerant.

Another common allergen in comfort food is gluten.

Carbonated drinks and caffeinated beverages also contribute to irritation in your digestive system. Carbonation can lead to bloating, and caffeine stimulates the intestines — even if they shouldn’t be stimulated.

Gut Calming Teas

Not only can it be very therapeutic to prepare a cup of hot tea and breathe in the steam, a cup of tea might get rid of your upset stomach and diarrhea.

Stress Relief Tips

Stress management is what it’s all about. Stress and diarrhea often go hand in hand. So stress relief is of paramount importance.

Here are some easy stress-relieving tips that can stop anxiety diarrhea:

IBS, IBD, & Stress

Stress can exacerbate or even trigger gastrointestinal problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Those who deal with IBS or IBD are more susceptible to stress, and vice-versa. Up to 90% of those who receive treatment for IBS also deal with depression or anxiety.

Whenever you experience stress, your digestive system may cramp and lead to diarrhea. In IBS patients, research shows that stress has a more powerful and fast-acting response than normal.

How can you tell if diarrhea is due to IBS or IBD?

Look for the other IBS symptoms:

  • Excess gas
  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Constipation

Or the other symptoms of IBD:

  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Bloody stool
  • Mucous in stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever

If you see physical symptoms of IBS or IBD accompany your diarrhea, this should help you realize why you are experiencing diarrhea.

It’s time to see your doctor when…

  • You use alcohol and/or drugs to cope with the stress
  • You have thoughts of self-harm
  • Treatment doesn’t work for your stress or diarrhea
  • Your stool contains blood
  • Fever

Tragically, 1.2 million people die of diarrhea complications every year, mostly young children. This is mostly in developing countries, however, and few people in America die because of diarrhea.

It is time to see your doctor when your diarrhea is caused by IBS or IBD. These are not usually life-threatening. One in ten people in the world deals with IBS. To help your body and your quality of life, seek help.

You can’t self-diagnose these conditions, but if chronic diarrhea is getting in the way of your work, personal, or mental life, schedule an appointment.

Click here to schedule a free consultation with us, and start your journey towards IBS-free living. At PrimeHealth, we deliver results you will not find in a conventional hospital or clinic setting, and we empower patients to take an active part in their own healing.

If you have a compromised immune system, as with a chronic infection like SIBO or parasites, you will likely experience chronic diarrhea. Counterbalance this unfortunate situation by making sure you drink plenty of fluids, in addition to consuming the necessary nutrients and electrolytes — since diarrhea can lead to dehydration, malabsorption, and malnutrition.

Looking to the Future

Can stress cause diarrhea? Yes, as you have read, the scientific evidence is clear.

In the future, look out for IBD and IBS symptoms when you experience diarrhea. IBS, IBD, and anxiety diarrhea are treatable health problems.

Avoid stressful situations, rehydrate, cut out inflammatory foods — dealing with diarrhea and stress doesn’t have to be scary.

And remember, diarrhea is nothing to be embarrassed about. Most people deal with it at least once a year. You’re not alone.

Stop Googling and finally get to the root of your gut issues.
Our gut health group visits begin Sept 20, 2022. Don’t miss out — sign up today!


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