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Is Stress or Anxiety a Factor in Causing Diarrhea?

Last updated: Dec 18, 2022 Post in Internal Medicine in Brooklyn by Century Medical & Dental Clinic.

If you are experiencing chronic diarrhea, consult your primary care doctor to get your condition accurately diagnosed and treated. Acute diarrhea may result from something you ate or after being exposed to a virus, but if your condition persists and worsens, it may be some other factors such as stress and anxiety, even if you fail to realize it. The top-rated internal medicine doctors at the Century Medical and Dental Center help treat diarrhea and provide the best tips and treatment for managing the stress that is causing a stomach upset.

Stress is a natural body reaction to pressure or a perceived threat. A little stress is good as it keeps us motivated and focused and improves our performance. But excessive or chronic stress can affect psychological and physical health, leading to harmful reactions in the long run.

If not controlled timely, too much stress can cause a wide range of erratic symptoms, including gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea. Stress is bad enough but combined with diarrhea, it can be terrible and leave you all miserable and weak.

What Is Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is the medical term for loose, watery stools. It is a symptom of an underlying cause rather than a disease itself. A mild case of diarrhea can last for a few days, while an acute episode can last for about 3 weeks. In severe cases, chronic diarrhea can even last as long as a month.

Characterized by loose or watery stool, abdominal cramps, and frequent bowel movements, diarrhea is a common yet unpleasant experience that can crop up without warning. It can also result from several different factors, many of which cannot be controlled despite our attempts to take care and eat right.

Symptoms that may accompany diarrhea include:

  • Abdominal pain and cramps;
  • An urgent need to empty the bowels;
  • Loss of bowel control.

In some cases, even though it might not seem to have any connection, it could be stress or anxiety that is causing you repeated trips to the bathroom.

Causes of Diarrhea

In most cases, it is fairly easy to pinpoint why you are having stomach cramps and trouble with bowel movements. The most common reason behind a loose stomach is an infection or the stomach virus that is going on. It could be anything from eating something unsuitable to drinking contaminated water or even parasites or the new rich or exotic meal you had for dinner.

Stress and Diarrhea – What Is the Connection

Our stress and gut are connected – even more than we realize, and our body reacts weirdly to stress. When we feel stressed, the nervous system responds by releasing adrenaline and cortisol hormones that stimulate the body for action.

Stress affects the muscles in the bowels and intestines, which in turn, affects the ability of the intestines to filter out harmful gut bacteria.

In most cases, the immune system comes to the rescue with inflammatory responses, but when the stress levels are too high for too long, the intestines mess up their filtration duty. The nervous system reacts with a more inflammatory response that can result in mild diarrhea.

The most common connection between chronic stress and diarrhea is hormonal changes. As a response to stress, a psychological reaction of fight or flight occurs. This response activates the release of hormones that prepare the body to take some action. At the same time, the brain also sends a signal to the bowels to increase bowel movement in the large intestine, which results in diarrhea.

Symptoms of Stress-Related Diarrhea

If your diarrhea is a result of stress, you may end up with one or more symptoms, including:

  • Headaches;
  • Muscle tension;
  • Tiredness;
  • Restlessness;
  • Irritability;
  • Feeling overwhelmed;
  • Sadness;
  • Depression;
  • Sleep problems;
  • Change in sex drive.

How to Treat Diarrhea Caused by Stress

Diarrhea, which is prompted by stress, is not a disease on its own. It is more about understanding the signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety to get to the root of the problem.

If stress or anxiety are triggering diarrhea and other digestive issues, the treatment options can include a wide variety of methods and medications. Stress-related diarrhea can be handled by addressing the underlying cause, which is chronic stress.

Diarrhea caused by stress can be treated by:

A change in diet – It is best to avoid any foods that may cause diarrhea. It can include carbonated drinks, beverages, and dairy products. Eating small amounts of plain carbohydrates such as cooked rice and pasta is good for the stomach in this condition as they are easy to digest. Also, avoiding rich and spicy foods can help in controlling the irritation in the bowels.

Staying hydrated – During diarrhea, small intestines and colon do not absorb minerals and fluids normally and it could result in dehydration. Keeping yourself hydrated by drinking water, juices and soups can replace lost sodium and electrolytes and keep you going. Staying hydrated is also beneficial for the blood flow and ensures better mental health too.

Focusing on stress management – Stress management is crucial for controlling diarrhea. Think about what factors might have triggered stress and prevent them. Stress can be coped with by focusing on relaxation techniques, reading a book, meditating, or listening to music.

Medication – Over-the-counter medications like Imodium are good for treating acute diarrhea and help to control bowels within a few doses. Depending on the nature and severity of diarrhea, your doctor may recommend a prescription medication to make you feel better. These medications aim to slow gastric motility, eliminate infections, or reduce the secretion of water into the colon.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy – Stress and anxiety are genuine concerns for people from all walks of life. Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on addressing cognitive distortions, which are irrational thoughts or beliefs that harm overall wellbeing. Participating in this kind of therapy helps patients change and replace the unhealthy thoughts that might be leading to stress and causing diarrhea.

These are some common yet effective ways to treat diarrhea as well as other symptoms that accompany diarrhea like abdominal pain, cramps, and bloating.

When to Seek Medical Help

Experts believe that when it comes to treating long-term or persistent diarrhea, stress may be a significant factor. While the stressful situation can lead directly to diarrhea, it can also trigger other well-known digestive problems like IBS, IBD, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis. In some cases, an ongoing anxiety disorder could also be the culprit behind an upset stomach.

When over-the-counter medications, home remedies, and dietary changes are unable to control the bowel movement, and the condition begins to affect your daily life, it is time to seek medical help. A long-term or too frequent upset stomach can lead to rapid weight loss due to inability to keep anything, as well as other health complications, such as low blood pressure levels and dehydration that can turn life-threatening.

The primary care physician will determine if it is some digestive problem or stress and anxiety that seem to be the reason behind your diarrhea. He will help you solve this problem and improve your digestive and mental health to enjoy the highest quality of life with your family.

Do not let stress and anxiety affect your life and well-being that keeps you away from routine activities. Keep an eye on your symptoms to understand what is causing them, and visit a specialist at the Century Medical and Dental Center to have your condition accurately diagnosed and treated. The best primary care providers in NY deal with a wide range of health concerns, particularly stress. They provide compassionate care when you feel unable to cope with things happening around you and need help.

SHARE THIS POST Page Updated on Dec 18, 2022 by Dr. Dvorkina (Primary Care Doctor) of Century Medical & Dental Center
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