IBS and Anxiety: Understanding the Link

Living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can be a difficult and often embarrassing experience. Symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and bowel irregularities can have a major impact not just on your physical health but also your mental wellbeing. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is a strong link between IBS and anxiety, with many medical experts believing that the two conditions are often interconnected.

The Prevalence of Anxiety among IBS Sufferers

A number of studies have demonstrated that anxiety is highly prevalent among individuals with IBS. In fact, it is estimated that up to 60% of people with IBS also have an anxiety disorder. This is compared to only 20% of individuals without IBS who experience anxiety. It’s worth noting that while IBS and anxiety often appear together, the link is not fully understood.

The Impact of Anxiety on IBS Symptoms

There is growing evidence that anxiety can make IBS symptoms worse. This is thought to be partly because anxiety can affect the nervous system, which is closely connected to the digestive system. Stress and anxiety can cause the muscles in the digestive tract to contract more frequently or more powerfully which can result in gastrointestinal symptoms such as cramping, bloating, and diarrhea.

Furthermore, anxiety can also lead to hypervigilance in relation to bodily sensations. This means that people with anxiety are more likely to be highly attuned to changes in their body, which can make them more aware of sensations such as abdominal pain and bloating. This heightened awareness and sensitivity can, in turn, increase anxiety levels further, creating a vicious circle of anxiety and physical symptoms.

The Impact of IBS on Anxiety Symptoms

While it is clear that anxiety can make IBS symptoms worse, it is also worth noting that the inverse is also true. IBS can have a negative impact on mental health and increase levels of anxiety. In fact, a study conducted in 2021 found that people with IBS had a more negative response to stressful events than those without IBS. This suggests that IBS can make people more vulnerable to feelings of anxiety and stress.

Treatment Approaches for IBS and Anxiety

Given the overlap between IBS and anxiety, it makes sense that many treatment approaches focus on addressing both conditions simultaneously. There are several strategies that can be effective in reducing both IBS symptoms and anxiety levels.

Lifestyle changes

Making lifestyle changes can be helpful in managing IBS and anxiety symptoms. This includes regular exercise, healthy eating, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, and getting enough sleep.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talking therapy that can be useful in treating both IBS and anxiety. CBT helps individuals to manage their thoughts and feelings by challenging negative thought patterns and developing coping mechanisms. Studies have demonstrated that CBT can be an effective treatment approach for both conditions.


Medication may be prescribed to treat IBS and anxiety symptoms. This may include laxatives or anti-diarrheal medication for IBS or medication such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication for anxiety. It is important to discuss potential side effects and overall effectiveness with your healthcare provider.


The link between IBS and anxiety is becoming increasingly clear. While it is not yet fully understood, research has demonstrated that anxiety can make IBS symptoms worse and vice versa. However, there are effective treatment approaches that can help individuals to manage both conditions. This includes lifestyle changes, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and medication. If you are struggling with IBS and anxiety, it’s important to speak to a healthcare provider who can provide you with the support and guidance you need.


What is the link between IBS and Anxiety?

Research shows that there is a strong correlation between Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Anxiety. The gut-brain axis plays a significant role in connecting the two conditions. Anxiety can trigger IBS symptoms, and IBS symptoms can, in turn, cause anxiety. Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress can cause physical symptoms, like abdominal pain and bloating, in people with IBS.

How does anxiety affect IBS sufferers?

Anxiety can exacerbate IBS symptoms, leading to discomfort and pain. Symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, and bloating can cause a great deal of stress to people suffering from IBS, leading to feelings of anxiety, fear, and embarrassment. Severe anxiety can also amplify pain and trigger new symptoms. This, in turn, can further exacerbate feelings of anxiety among IBS sufferers, perpetuating a cycle of pain and anxiety.

What are the common coping mechanisms for IBS sufferers with anxiety?

People with IBS and anxiety can employ different coping mechanisms depending on their unique circumstances. Common ways of coping include relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation. Practicing good self-care habits like getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and regular exercise can also help reduce symptoms. Seeking out support groups and therapy can also be helpful for patients struggling with IBS and anxiety. Doctors may recommend Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medications to help manage anxiety and improve symptoms.


1. Lovell, R. M., & Ford, A. C. (2021). Global prevalence of and risk factors for irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis. Clinical Epidemiology, 13, 387โ€“394. https://doi.org/10.2147/CLEP.S301524

2. Labus, J. S., Hollister, E. B., Jacobs, J., Kirbach, K., Oezguen, N., Gupta, A., Acosta, J. R., Woodworth, D., Zaidi, Z., & Tillisch, K. (2019). Differences in gut microbial composition correlate with regional brain volumes in irritable bowel syndrome. Microbiome, 7(1), 1โ€“12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40168-019-0672-3

3. Lea, R., Whorwell, P. J., & Kirmayer, L. J. (2020). Irritable bowel syndrome: a clinical perspective. Journal of Internal Medicine, 287(2), 111โ€“127. https://doi.org/10.1111/joim.13106