Can anxiety or stress cause Diarrhoea?

Written by Dr Nelson Lau, MBBS FRACGP, GP & Digital Health Specialist

Anxiety, a pervasive form of stress, profoundly impacts our digestive system, often manifesting as diarrhoea. This phenomenon stems from the body’s stress response, where the adrenal glands secrete hormones like cortisol and adrenaline speeds up gut motility. This speeding up of movement of the gut leads to frequent, urgent bowel movements – the hallmark of diarrhoea. Anxiety also disrupts the gut-brain axis, the communication highway between the central and enteric nervous systems, contributing to further gastrointestinal discomfort and altered bowel habits.

Treatment & Management: How do you get rid of diarrhoea from anxiety?

Incorporating relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and biofeedback into your daily routine can reduce overall stress levels and help to control the physical symptoms. Building a supportive network of friends, family, or joining support groups can provide emotional solace, indirectly helping in relieving stress-related diarrhoea. Dietary adjustments, such as incorporating soluble fibre to solidify stools and avoiding high-fat foods and large meals, can prevent worsening of symptoms. Keeping a food diary may also help to identify and avoid specific triggers.

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How to prevent stress-induced diarrhoea?

Building resilience against stress is key to prevention. Time management skills can reduce deadline pressure, while setting realistic goals and boundaries can prevent overcommitment – a common stressor. Cultivating a positive outlook, practising mindfulness, and reframing negative thoughts can enhance stress-coping abilities, reducing gastrointestinal repercussions. Regular physical activity, by stimulating endorphin production, acts as a natural stress reliever, alleviating diarrhoea.

When to see a doctor?

Seek medical advice if symptoms persist despite self-management efforts or if they disrupt your daily life. A healthcare provider can assess for other potential causes, such as infections, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or food intolerances, ensuring that these are appropriately treated. If stress and anxiety are overwhelming, a referral to a mental health professional may provide strategies and therapies specifically tailored to managing anxiety, potentially alleviating the diarrhoea.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Anxiety and Stress Cause Vomiting?

Yes, anxiety and stress can cause nausea and vomiting due to the body’s release of stress hormones, which can upset the stomach and disrupt normal digestive processes. Managing stress through techniques mentioned earlier can help minimise this reaction.

Can Stress Lead to Constipation?

Just as stress can cause diarrhoea, it can also lead to constipation. The stress response may also slow down digestion and reduce gut motility, resulting in harder, difficult-to-pass stools. Managing stress and maintaining a high-fibre diet can help alleviate this issue.

How Long Does Anxiety Diarrhoea Last?

The duration is highly personal. For some, it may persist only as long as the anxiety-triggering event, while for others, it may become chronic if the underlying anxiety remains unaddressed. Implementing ongoing stress-management strategies is crucial for those with recurrent episodes.

How Do I Know if My Diarrhoea is From Stress?

Observe if your diarrhoea tends to occur in association with periods of heightened stress or anxiety and subsides when your stress levels decrease. If so, it is likely stress-related. A healthcare provider can help rule out other causes and confirm the diagnosis.

Can Stress Cause Diarrhoea at Night?

Yes, stress can lead to nocturnal diarrhoea. Stress hormones can disrupt sleep patterns and the natural rhythm of the digestive system, resulting in bowel movements at night. Practising good sleep hygiene and employing stress-reduction techniques before bed can help minimise this effect.

What Are Other Common Stomach Conditions That Are Affected by Stress?

In addition to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), and peptic ulcers, stress can also contribute to functional dyspepsia (indigestion without a clear cause) and gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying). These conditions underscore the powerful influence of stress on the digestive system and the importance of managing stress for overall gastrointestinal health.

The intricate connection between stress, anxiety, and our digestive system can lead to uncomfortable and disruptive symptoms like diarrhoea. Understanding the physiological basis of this relationship allows us to better navigate the path to relief and management. Through lifestyle adjustments, dietary modifications, and stress-reduction techniques, it is possible to mitigate the impact of stress on our gastrointestinal health. However, persistent or severe symptoms should always prompt a consultation with your doctor to ensure that you have comprehensive care and rule out other potential causes. Recognising the mind-body connection and fostering resilience against stress not only enhances your digestive health but your overall quality of life.

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Disclaimer

This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. For emergencies please immediately contact 000.