Can Stress Cause Diarrhea? IBS, Stress, & Poop

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Anxiety and stress may play a key role in any digestive issues — yes, stress can cause diarrhea. Treating anxiety and stress at their roots should give you more control over your bowel movements

Seeking medical advice or treatment for bathroom woes can be tough, even though most people know diarrhea is a thing that happens to many bodies.

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!

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 (SIBO)

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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.

How does stress give you diarrhea?

Stress gives you diarrhea because your fight or flight response triggers the enteric nervous system, which regulates (among other things) digestive function. Chronic stress can also induce cortisol production, which may negatively affect your gut bacteria.

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.

When you experience stress, your body answers with a “fight or flight” response. Your heart rate rises, 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 stress triggers is great for short-term coping. But if your body continues to “respond” to stress every day, it can lead to some serious health conditions, not the least of which is digestive problems.

Your stomach and gastrointestinal tract have their own nervous system — the enteric nervous 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.

This is where the gut-brain axis comes in. Your central nervous system and the enteric nervous system communicate, linking emotional responses to peripheral bodily functions — heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and intestinal function.

The stress hormone cortisol negatively impacts gut bacteria as well. This means mental wellness is important in fighting medical conditions. In fact, humans and animals who experience stress early in life may have chronic diarrhea later in life. Fortunately, there are simple ways to stop stress-related diarrhea.

How do I know if my diarrhea is from stress?

If anxiety is causing the problem, you’ll likely experience some other effects of stress along with gastrointestinal discomfort. Here are some symptoms to look for:

  • Headaches
  • Neck tension
  • High blood pressure
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Changes in libido

How to Stop Anxiety Diarrhea

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

While there are over-the-counter options to relieve stomach problems, we suggest these 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 alleviate the damage already done.

Diet Changes

It is unfortunate that many who deal with anxiety-related diarrhea never receive formal dietary advice. 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.

The right diet can help improve your physical and mental health. Avoiding triggering foods can even prevent flare ups.

Many so-called “comfort foods” contain gluten and dairy, two of the most inflammatory foods you can consume. Roughly 68% of the world’s population are lactose intolerant — meaning these foods don’t offer much physical comfort for most people.

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 stress-induced diarrhea.


Probiotics are live microorganisms that support the bacteria in your intestines. A balanced gut microbiome can promote healthier digestion and lower stress

The best probiotic strains for diarrhea are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. For best results, try a gluten-free brand with high colony-forming units (CFUs).

Stress Relief Tips

Stress management is the most important factor in relieving stress- and anxiety-induced diarrhea.

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

How long does stress diarrhea last? Stress diarrhea should go away in under 2 days. The stress response will typically resolve itself in this amount of time. However, if you experience persistent stress for several days, it can continually trigger diarrhea.

Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, malabsorption, and malnutrition. Counterbalance this by making sure you drink plenty of fluids, in addition to consuming plenty of nutrients and electrolytes.

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, leading 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.

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When to Seek Help

It’s time to see your gastroenterologist or other healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:

  • Diarrhea that lasts longer than 2 days
  • Fever
  • Severe pain in the abdomen or rectum
  • Little or no urination
  • Severe weakness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Blood in stool
  • Treatment doesn’t work for your stress or diarrhea

If you have a compromised immune system, as with a chronic infection like SIBO or parasites, you will likely experience chronic diarrhea

If chronic diarrhea is getting in the way of your work, personal, or mental life, schedule an appointment. It may be caused by IBS or IBD. These are not usually life-threatening. One in 10 people in the world deals with IBS. To heal your body and improve your quality of life, seek help.

Denver residents: 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.

Looking to 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. Colorado/Denver residents, book a free consultation today!


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