Does Stress Have an Impact on IBD?

Does Stress Have an Impact on IBD

The idea that stress can lead to the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) has been shown in considerable amounts of research to be nothing more than a myth, but this does not mean that there is no link at all between them.  So, what impact does stress really have on IBD, and what can you do about it?

Stress is frequently seen in people who have chronic medical problems, which is why IBD was originally thought to be caused by it. However, the physical aspects of IBD have now been identified.

The fact that a chronic illness has developed is stressful because there is presently no hope of a cure, and very few effective treatments exist.  The condition requires the long term management of symptoms, and may mean that you need to make a number of changes to your lifestyle, which probably will have to be permanent.  The symptoms of a chronic condition such as IBD, regardless of whether it is ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, are not going to resolve within a matter of days – they will be present for the rest of the patient’s life, though the severity will not always be the same.

IBD is not caused initially by stress.  However, if you are experiencing high levels of stress, then you are likely to find that your symptoms become worse as a result of this.  Flare ups may occur more frequently and the severity of these can increase as a result of the stress.  This is because the hormones released in the body when stress levels are high (the so-called stress hormones, such as cortisol) can disrupt the normal digestive processes.  In IBD patients, digestion is already less efficient than in people who are unaffected by the condition, so any changes are much more likely to result in the onset of symptoms.   These changes can include:

  • Changes in the speed of movement through the digestive system.  An increase in the speed will lead to the onset of diarrhea, which is already one of the most common symptoms experienced by IBD patients.  If the movement of material slows down, then this can lead to constipation instead.

  • The secretion of excess acid.  The lining of the stomach will often produce a higher level of acid when you are stressed, and if this is not all neutralized by the time the material passes into the small intestine, then the acid will aggravate and damage the lining further.

The best way to prevent these changes from occurring is to try to reduce the levels of stress that you experience on a regular basis. This may mean that you need to make some changes at work, or perhaps within the home, depending on what contributes to your stress levels.  Alternatively, you need to find an effective method of dealing with stress.  You may need to explore several different options before you find one that works for you, as everyone is different.  If you are seeing an colorectal specialist in Los Angeles, they should be able to advise you on some methods that you can try.