It is estimated that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects up to one in 10 Brits, and this painful condition can cause major problems for sufferers. Unfortunately it is still not entirely clear exactly what causes IBS, but recent research suggests stress could be a factor.
Because the colon is partly controlled by the nervous system, it can respond to stress. Many of us will have experienced a need to use the toilet when we are feeling anxious or nervous about something. In IBS sufferers, anxiety can exacerbate the symptoms, and in some cases could even be the underlying cause. The connection between brain and gut also works both ways - while anxiety can affect the digestive system, worries about experiencing IBS symptoms can also give rise to stress and depression.
Where's the evidence?
According to Bupa, an estimated three out of four IBS sufferers will have one or more periods of depression, and more than 50 per cent will experience generalised anxiety disorder. Worryingly, one study revealed that 38 per cent of those who were diagnosed with IBS had considered suicide in a bid to escape their symptoms.
In general, treatment for IBS is designed to temporarily relieve the symptoms, whether it's constipation, diarrhoea or abdominal pain. But many find they experience side effects as a result of the medication, or that they simply don't get the relief they need.
However, given the evidence that suggests the brain may have more of an impact on IBS than was previously thought, psychological treatments are growing in popularity. Psychotherapy and hypnosis have both proven effective for some sufferers, while cognitive behavioural therapy, which is designed to help deal with negative emotions and thereby potentially the physical symptoms of IBS, is increasingly prescribed to help with the symptoms of IBS and the stress caused by the condition.
If you have been suffering with IBS and are struggling to find anything that relieves the symptoms, it is worth speaking to your GP about the possibility of psychological treatments - it could help you to cope with, or even reduce the symptoms of this long-term condition.