Fact Checked

Can Stress And Anxiety Really Cause Diarrhea?

Anxiety and Diarrhea

Can Anxiety Cause Diarrhea - (Image Credit: Shutterstock)

30-Second-Summary

Diarrhea is a condition that, unfortunately, can be caused by many things. But can anxiety cause diarrhea? We will answer this and other questions in the following article which will cover:

  • The possible link between diarrhea and stress
  • The answer to the question, ‘can anxiety cause diarrhea?
  • What role in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can play in the equation
  • The different types of irritable bowel syndrome
  • When you may need to see a doctor
  • How you might be able to treat anxiety and diarrhea
  • Some frequently asked questions about anxiety and diarrhea
  • Why some may experience anxiety after eating
  • Some ways you can eliminate stress and anxiety in your life

How Does Anxiety Play A Part In Diarrhea?

The question gets asked a lot: can anxiety cause diarrhea? The short answer is yes. Anxiety can cause diarrhea.

The link goes back to our basic human instinct and hormones. When we are stressed or in high-pressure or dangerous situations, our natural fight-or-flight instincts kick in, and certain hormones are released to protect us[1].

The problem is these hormones, in particular, cortisol doesn’t wear off easily. They can cause frequent colon contractions that could result in diarrhea or, at least, frequent trips to the bathroom. That’s why the answer to the question, ‘can anxiety cause diarrhea?’ is a resounding yes.

Anxiety is essentially a pronounced and advanced form of stress. People have the tendency to ask ‘can anxiety cause diarrhea?’ because of prolonged symptoms. Prolonged stress leads to anxiety and, therefore, more bouts with diarrhea.

While anxiety and stress certainly can contribute to diarrhea, it’s important to note that they are not the only contributors. Anxiety and diarrhea certainly have a link, but diarrhea can be due to physical illness and many other factors[2].

It’s very important to try and determine what exactly is causing your case of diarrhea before beginning treatment or taking anxiety diarrhea medication. Of course, the best way to determine what is causing your fits of diarrhea is to see a doctor.

Anxiety And IBS

Anxiety And IBS
IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and is a medical condition that can include symptoms like diarrhea. However, the problems are usually more severe, more frequent, and further reaching. So before you ask the question, ‘can anxiety cause diarrhea?’ you need to make sure you aren’t suffering from IBS. To give you a general idea, here are some of the most common symptoms of IBS:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Frequent need to defecate
  • Significant problems with diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Trouble digesting food
  • General digestive disruptions

Getting to a different matter you may be wondering about, Irritable Bowel Syndrome cannot be caused by stress or anxiety alone. Anxiety and IBS don’t have a cause-and-effect relationship. Anxiety alone cannot cause IBS because IBS is a medical condition.

Anxiety and IBS are often linked because stress and anxiety are often linked to diarrhea. Again, it is important to note that diarrhea is not necessarily IBS. Also, diarrhea is not a medical condition like IBS is but rather a symptom of other possible conditions.

If you are wondering about anxiety and IBS, you need to see a doctor because anxiety is almost certainly not a factor if you have IBS.

So to summarize this section plainly: there is no link between anxiety and IBS, and you should see a doctor if you are exhibiting symptoms of IBS as soon as possible.

Multiple Types Of IBS

Can anxiety cause IBS? No. Can anxiety cause diarrhea? Absolutely. However, you should know that different kinds of IBS may also include symptoms of diarrhea. Why is this important? Because just because you have IBS doesn’t mean you will have diarrhea, and just because you have diarrhea doesn’t mean you have IBS.

You should know about the different types of IBS because knowing which symptoms are typically included in the different types will help you identify which kind you might have. Generally speaking, there are three main types of IBS:

  • IBS Marked with Constipation – With this type, the patient usually has a hard time defecating when they need to, and their stool is typically hard or lumpy. Stomach pains and bloating are also common with this type.
  • IBS Marked with DiarrheaAnxiety and diarrhea are related, but even if you have IBS with diarrhea, the problem is not anxiety. This type exhibits loose, watery stool and the need to frequently empty your bowels.
  • Combination Type – Unfortunately, some cases of IBS include symptoms from both constipation and diarrhea categories.

If you have ever wondered ‘can anxiety cause diarrhea,’ then you may be asking the wrong problem. You may have IBS and one of two major types to boot.

What Can Be Done About Stress-Triggered Diarrhea

Stress-Triggered Diarrhea
To hear that the answer to the question ‘can anxiety cause diarrhea’ is yes may distress you even further. However, the good news is that there are things you can do about it.

You don’t need to let anxiety and diarrhea run your life. By limiting some of the stressors in your life, you may find that your diarrhea disappears. Here are a few things you can try:

  • Yoga – Doing yoga relaxes your mind and body and could be a much better alternative to anxiety diarrhea medication.
  • Meditation – Another great alternative to anxiety diarrhea medication is meditating. Try starting small with just ten minutes of uninterrupted meditation of the day and working your way up from there.
  • Medication – Of course, there may be some extreme instances in which anxiety diarrhea medication may be necessary.
  • Diet – Changing your diet for the healthier could also help alleviate stress. Anxiety after eating is often reported by people with stress-induced diarrhea issues, and while this may be a mental trigger, a good place to start is by eating healthier foods.

Should You See A Doctor About Stress-Induced Diarrhea?

While it is advisable to see a medical professional if you have any questions at all about your digestive health, your case may not be an emergency one.

Again, if stress is the main culprit, then making simple alterations to your lifestyle (healthy eating, avoiding stressful situations, exercising, quitting or limiting smoking, etc.) should take care of the problem.

In severe cases, you may also need to try anxiety diarrhea medication. However, there are some instances in which you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • If you find blood in your stool
  • If you notice any blood coming from your rectum at all
  • If you are running a fever and it persists more than a day
  • If you are experiencing intolerable abdominal pain or any abdominal pain that is disrupting your ability to function normally
  • If you experience anxiety after eating

Anxiety-Induced Diarrhea

Frequently Asked Questions About Anxiety-Induced Diarrhea

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is yes. Stress triggers the release of the hormone cortisol that can have many effects, including triggering the colon to become hyperactive. Once the colon is hyperactive, diarrhea can occur.

Yoga has been clinically proven to be effective for stress management[3]. Getting rid of stress diarrhea is all about limiting stress in your life, so taking up a yoga or meditation routine can help. Also, if you smoke, cutting down can help lower your heart rate and make you feel more relaxed in general.

If you feel like you cannot manage your stress on your own and it is causing issues in your life and daily routine, it is probably time to see a doctor. If you are notice anxiety after eating, find blood in your stool, have extremely painful abdominal cramps, or if you have a fever that lasts more than a day, you should also seek medical attention.

Additional Thoughts On Stress-Related Diarrhea

Making healthy lifestyle choices is always advisable, but even more so with stress-related diarrhea. Getting enough sleep, avoiding situations that cause you anxiety, stretching yourself too thin at work or with family, or simply eating unhealthy foods can contribute to stress.

If you observe anxiety after eating, it could be a sign that you have a more serious eating disorder that could be adding to your stress and should be looked into as soon as possible. Still, stress-related diarrhea can be treated naturally and simply.

The most important thing is to be mindful of your body and stop and make time to think about your mental state.

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