Anxiety and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Mar 21, 2019 | Anxiety Stress and Panic Attacks | 0 comments

Anxiety and Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket

In my last article I wrote about the evidence for hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and how research has demonstrated how hypnosis can really help alleviate the symptoms of IBS (you can read that article here: Hypnotherapy for IBS).

IBS is a chronic functional gastrointestinal disorder that is estimated to affect up to 15% of people. It causes persistent pain or discomfort that is associated with relief with defecation, looser or more frequent stools, or harder or less frequent stools. The symptoms need to have been present at least three days per month over the past three months for a diagnosis of IBS.

One feature I mentioned in that last article was how IBS and anxiety often go together.

There may be anxiety around needing the toilet urgently when out, or about getting caught out if there is no toilet available and there is an urgent need to go. There may be anxiety around experiencing symptoms when with other people or about being in discomfort or needing the loo urgently when with others. And there is often an elevated level of anxiety around any situation that may involve feeling ‘trapped’ or out of control such as being a passenger in a car or on a train where there may be little control over going to the toilet if needed.

And, of course, as well as IBS symptoms, anxiety itself can impact on our stomachs and digestive system which can exacerbate IBS type symptoms and lead to even more anxiety. It can become a very cyclical cycle of IBS creating anxiety and the anxiety then worsening the IBS symptoms…leading to more anxiety.


IBS and Anxiety

In fact, there has been research that has looked at the frequency of IBS and anxiety being present together that suggests that if you are anxious you may also suffer with IBS and if you have IBS you may very well experience anxiety.

Certainly it has been the case that most people experiencing IBS that I have helped have also struggled with anxiety as well, whether that is only in relation to their IBS symptoms or more generally (and including anxiety about IBS symptoms). You may find that you only feel comfortable going to familiar places where you know there is a toilet and how to get there. You may want to always drive so you feel in control and can pull over if needed. And you may even avoid eating before you leave the house to try and circumvent symptoms or routinely take medication before you go places.

Gros et al (2008) carried out research into the frequency and severity of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome across the anxiety disorders and depression. Using a sample of three hundred and fifty people seeking anxiety treatment, they found that, ‘A high frequency of IBS symptoms was found in patients with panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder….in addition, anxiety sensitivity and illness attitudes and intrusiveness were predictive of elevated IBS symptomology.”

They found that patients with symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of IBS reported significantly higher scores on measures of anxiety, anxiety sensitivity and several types of worries and behaviours associated with their illness.

That is, there were elevated levels of IBS symptoms in people with anxiety and depression and the presence of IBS symptoms was found to be related to increased general anxiety and health-related concerns. Thus there was a connection between symptoms of anxiety and symptoms of IBS ’emphasising the role of physiological symptoms of anxiety.’


Anxiety and Irritable Bowel Syndrome hypnotherapy in Ely


In another study by Lee et al. (2009), a random community based telephone survey was conducted to look into the prevalence, comorbidity and risk correlates of IBS and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) in the general population. Two thousand and five people completed the interview. They found that people with IBS were more likely to also have generalised anxiety disorder and that IBS was more common among people with anxiety than those without anxiety.

We set out to evaluate the prevalence and comorbidity of IBS and GAD in a general population-based study. We found that IBS was strongly comorbid with GAD and that comorbid IBS-GAD had more impairment and core depressive symptoms.”

Thus there are both psychological and physiological aspects within IBS and anxiety. Lee et al. pointed to the fact that people with anxiety may be more likely to catastrophise and to apply that type of anxious thinking to their IBS. They wrote, “given the hypochondriacal tendency of people with GAD, the physical symptoms of IBS could re-enforce their anxious inability to tolerate and cope with these discomforts, thereby forming a vicious spiral between physical and psychological symptoms.’ This could then lead to more avoidance and anticipatory anxiety that impacts further on someone’s quality of life.

In conclusion they found that IBS is strongly associated with generalized anxiety disorder.

And in a further study by Mykleton et al (2010) the prevalence of mood and anxiety disorder amongst women with irritable bowel syndrome was studied. Using data from over a thousand women they found that current IBS was associated with an increased likelihood of anxiety disorder. Their analysis demonstrated an increased prevalence of IBS across most common anxiety and mood disorders and they concluded that ‘IBS is significantly associated with anxiety and mood disorders.’

Their findings were that “IBS was consistently associated with psychopathology in this study. Among individuals with current IBS, 27.5% also had a current psychiatric mood or anxiety disorder… and among lifetime IBS, 50.5% also had a lifetime psychiatric condition …Associations of IBS to psychopathology were equally strong in mood and anxiety disorders, and the prevalence of all psychiatric conditions except bipolar disorder tended to be increased in IBS.


Treatment For Anxiety and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

I mentioned in my last article about IBS that hypnotherapy has demonstrated outstanding results in helping to alleviate the symptoms of IBS. Research has consistently shown that hypnosis has a substantial therapeutic impact on IBS, even for patients unresponsive to standard medical interventions.

And, of course, hypnotherapy has also shown awesome results in helping to overcome anxiety so that you feel calm and in control of your thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions.

Using hypnotherapy to tackle anxiety and IBS can interrupt and reverse that negative spiral of anxiety about IBS symptoms leading to feeling more IBS symptoms and more anxious. Instead, you can learn how to take back control over those worst case thoughts and to calm the anxiety that impacts on your stomach and digestive system.

As described above from the research, IBS and anxiety often exist together and each heightens and exacerbates the symptoms, thoughts and feelings of the other. Using hypnotherapy, which can help with both aspects, can help reduce and manage things so that you no longer have to be so restricted and limited in what you do in your everyday life.

To your success

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket


Seeking help to overcome your anxiety and ease your IBS? Book your Complimentary Hypnotherapy Strategy Session with Dan now: Appointments

Find out what other people have said after their hypnotherapy sessions with Dan: What People Say

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Gros, D.F., Antony, M.M., McCabe, R.E. and Swinson, R.P., 2009. Frequency and severity of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome across the anxiety disorders and depression. Journal of anxiety disorders, 23(2), pp.290-296.

Lee, S., Wu, J., Ma, Y.L., Tsang, A., Guo, W.J. and Sung, J., 2009. Irritable bowel syndrome is strongly associated with generalized anxiety disorder: a community study. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 30(6), pp.643-651.

Mykletun, A., Jacka, F., Williams, L., Pasco, J., Henry, M., Nicholson, G.C., Kotowicz, M.A. and Berk, M., 2010. Prevalence of mood and anxiety disorder in self reported irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). An epidemiological population based study of women. BMC gastroenterology, 10(1), p.88.



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