Stress and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Stress and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Not sure what stress you have suffered lately? Have a look at the examples below and see if you can relate to any of these stressors and how your IBS symptoms flare up:

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Everyday life events can lead to stress:2

  • Work
  • Your commute
  • Problems at home
  • Money problems
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Major life events can lead to stress:3

  • Marital separation
  • Family member leaving home
  • A relationship ending
  • Severe illness
  • Death of a parent
  • Abuse (emotional and physical)
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Do any of your IBS symptoms flare up during times of stress? 4, 6

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramps
  • Bloating
  • Passing mucous
  • Feeling that bowel movement is incomplete
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You may have stress-related IBS

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The brain-gut-axis refers to the multiple pathways and other connections the brain uses to communicate with the gut. 7
Stress disrupts the brain-gut axis, leading to changes in gastrointestinal functioning: the movement of digestive contents along the digestive tract and the release of gastrointestinal hormones, causing diarrhoea or constipation. 7,8,9

In patients with IBS, a profound dysregulation of the brain-gut axis (BGA) takes place.


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IBS management tips – FODMAPS

What are FODMAPs? 10 
FODMAPs are certain types of carbohydrates that can pass through the small intestine without being fully absorbed. If they move on to the large intestine, they get fermented by the bacteria that lives there, causing gas.

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They also draw in water leading to:

F = FERMENTABLE (causes gas)
O = OLIGOSACCHARIDES such as onions, garlic, beans, artichokes, dried fruit, plums, watermelon, wheat, rye, barley, pistachio and cashew nuts. NOTE: not all nuts are high-FODMAP. Peanuts, walnuts and pecans, along with moderate portions of almonds, are low.
D = DISACCHARIDES such as milk and yoghurt. NOTE: many dairy products are low FODMAPs. Enjoy cheeses like parmesan, brie, cheddar and feta, as well as moderate servings of ricotta.

TIP: Many high-FODMAP foods become low-LODMAP in moderate servings.

M = MONOSACCHARIDES such as asparagus, sugar snap peas, apples, fresh figs, cherries, mango, pears, honey, agave and high fructose corn syrup. NOTE: pure maple syrup is an excellent replacement for honey. In baking, it’s a 1-to-1 substitute.

(A = AND)

P = POLYOLS such as peaches, blackberries, mushrooms and snowpeas, as well as sweeteners like mannitol, sorbitol, maltilol, xylitol and isomalt. NOTE: cutting sugar-free foods like gum and mints make these foods easier to avoid.

All patients with IBS should be treated holistically in order to improve their quality of life. 11 

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When you know the things that can make your IBS symptoms flare up, called triggers, you can make a plan to avoid them. That way, you can work on keeping problems with constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and bloating to a minimum.
IBS is different for everyone, but it may help to keep track of how you react to the most common symptom triggers and learn to prevent them. 2

Our downloadable IBS Trigger Diary - available online may help you connect the dots in discovering what is making your IBS worse, and importantly, assisting your doctor in treating your symptoms.


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The diary is simple to use:

We listed a number of common triggers and situations down the side. 2,3 

Simply complete the diary each day by ticking which emoticon best represents "how you felt" against "how you did" that day

You may not experience all of these situations each day, which is why we suggest you use the diary for at least 4 weeks.  You may start to see some patterns emerging and we encourage you to visit your doctor with the completed diary to discuss how best to treat your symptoms. 

Medical References

  1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Stress. Available at Last accessed 14 July 2019
  2. Khatari M. WebMD. IBS Triggers and How to Avoid Them. Last reviewed 25 March 2018. Available at Last accessed 4 July 2019
  3. Qin H-Y, Cheng C-W, Tang X-D, Bian Z-X. Impact of psychological stress on irritable bowel syndrome. World J Gastroenterol 2014;20(39):14126-14131
  4. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Irritable bowel syndrome in adults: diagnosis and management. Clinical guideline. Published: 23 February 2008. Available at Last accessed 4 July 2019
  5. Gastrointestinal Society. (2018). Rome III to Rome IV: Updates and Developments. [online] Available at: https:// Accessed 3 July 2019
  6. Quigley E, Fried M, Gwee KA, Khalif I, Hungin P, Lindberg G, et al. Irritable bowel syndrome: a global perspective. World Gastroenterology Organization Global Guideline. Updated September 2015. Available at Last accessed 4 July 2019
  7. Konturek PC, Brzozowski T, Konturek S. Stress and the Gut: Pathophysiology, Clinical Consequences, Diagnostic Approach and Treatment Options. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2011;62(6):591-599
  8. Tacheé Y, Kiank C, Stengel A. A Role for Corticotropin-releasing Factor in Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2009;11(4):270–277
  9. Prins A. The brain-gut interaction: the conversation and the implications. S Afr J Clin Nutr 2011;24(3): S8-S14
  10. What are FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disacchardies Monosaccharides and Polyols) Julie O’Hara, Health Coach (c) 2015 – 2016 Julie O’Hara Creative, LLC. All rights reserved. Available at URL: Accessed 4 June 2019
  11. Singh P, Agnihotri A, Pathak M, Shirazi A, Tiwari R, Sreenivas V et al. Psychiatric, Somatic and Other Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome at a Tertiary Care Center. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2012;18(3):324-331

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