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What the Yuck: Stress-triggered diarrhea
November 18th, 2011
11:56 AM ET

What the Yuck: Stress-triggered diarrhea

Too embarrassed to ask your doctor about sex, body quirks, or the latest celeb health fad? In a regular feature and a new book, "What the Yuck?!," Health magazine medical editor Dr. Roshini Raj tackles your most personal and provocative questions. Send 'em to Dr. Raj at whattheyuck@health.com.

Q: When I get nervous or upset at work, I always get diarrhea. A co-worker says it could be IBS. Really?

It’s possible. What people sometimes call "nervous stomach" can also be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common disorder of the colon that can cause diarrhea, constipation, cramping, and/or bloating.

Stress can trigger it, since some of the same chemicals, such as serotonin, that affect your brain when you’re anxious can change the movement of your intestines, too.

To combat the messy effects of this gut-brain connection, try an over-the-counter antidiarrheal medicine, such as Imodium, on the mornings you know you’ve got something stressful ahead of you, like a meeting with the boss. Relaxation techniques (yoga, cardio, or meditation) may also help.

In any case, see your doctor to confirm that you have IBS; she may want to rule out other conditions, or she may suggest therapy and possibly an antidepressant, among other treatments, to ease the problem.

Copyright Health Magazine 2011


soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. pmk1953

    I'm so happy, I could sh)t!

    November 18, 2011 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Boris

    Use Homeopathy!!!

    November 18, 2011 at 17:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. pasrfr

    Drugs for this, drugs for that. Thanks Dr. Gupta!

    November 21, 2011 at 10:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. ser

    really..is using a immodium as prophylaxis a good idea....I don't know...why not just go to the bathroom at work....duh

    November 21, 2011 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Wizwo

    Career limiting move #254: Announcing to co-workers that you are experiencing diarrhea.

    November 21, 2011 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Gracie L.

    The best advice in this column is to see a doctor in person. When doctors have no idea what's causing physical symptoms, they tend to blame stress. If stress alone caused diarrhea, every work bathroom would be in constant use. It took decades for doctors to realize ulcers were caused by H pylori and not stress. In another 10 years, maybe they'll figure out what bacteria causes IBS.

    @ser: good point about the Immodium. It doesn't seem like a good idea to take it before seeing a doctor.

    November 21, 2011 at 20:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Yonatan

      Hi all. I just read Sue's comment about dcidnaa and agree that it is an aggressive little fiend. I further agree with the oregano oil. But Sue, if you're still out there, I was wondering if you heard that it tends to return? Once you know the symptoms then you can again take steps to control. With me I think of it as separate from the IBS and the IC (another condition I have). But probably makes them both worse as a cold or flu might.There's some scientists that believe they will find a bacterial/viral/microbial source for every single illness. However, my understanding is that dcidnaa is part of most people's ecology and that with some it gets the upper hand? If you think about it, infection is quite common in weakened areas of the body. So with the IC (ulcers in the bladder) there was a study done to see if there could be a bacterial link. The bladder is supposed to be a somewhat sterile environment. Biopsies were actually taken and sure enough IC patients with bacteria greatly outnumbered controls. But there were so many different types of bacteria with the IC that they concluded these were secondary infections and were potentially making symptoms worse but not the root cause. I tend to think the same is true with dcidnaa a secondary infection in the gut, but still very nasty. Sue, is your tongue coated at times? Lovely I know.It's all very complicated. I've been reading about lectins (poisons of sorts) in foods and their possible role in disease. I'm of the belief that food intolerances, allergies, IBS, dcidnaa overgrowth, celiac sprue are branches on the tree of something we're doing wrong. If anyone has any idea about what the root of all evil is please clue me in.Sophie, have you noticed all the attention sunlight/vitamin D is getting lately. It truly sounds like one factor that is missing that could help many of your readers. Afterall, we descended from beings that supposedly were in the sun all day long. Remove one card and the whole deck falls? Sharon

      April 7, 2012 at 22:23 | Report abuse |
  7. Jo

    It is also important to consider if you might be lactose intolerant, which is another problem associated with diarrhea. When I stopped consuming dairy products, my problem was substantially fixed; however, I am worried about not getting the correct amount of calcium I need. So I will probably need calcium pills. The stress at work still causes my body to have this problem. I have to plan to use the bathroom prior to a meeting. I'm curious if the imodium medicine will add to the fixing.

    November 21, 2011 at 22:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Joe

    If your anxiety/stress levels are enough to cause physical symptoms, antidepressants may seriously improve them. I suffered terribly from IBS for 5 years, at one point actually wishing it was cancer so they could at least do something about it. I later went on an SSRI for severe anxiety and the IBS/stress related dysfunction was almost completely eliminated.

    November 24, 2011 at 19:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Mary

    Interesting. I have IBS as well. I found that divorcing my no-good exhusband cured about 99% of my symptoms.

    November 26, 2011 at 13:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jorge

      Hello, Your site and tale are very interesting. I fefsured from severe IBS for more than twenty years. I had a lot of other disparate symptoms too, but it never occurred to me that they could be caused by the same thing.Trying to lose weight about five years ago, I did the Atkins thing and surprisingly found myself feeling much better in many ways including the IBS. I found a book about IBS diet and an illness called ankylosing spondylitis and saw that the symptoms were very similar and tried following the diet and improved a great deal but still wasn't well.A year of argumentation finally talked my doc into giving me the genetic test for this disease but proved only that I didn't have it. From this I decided that I must have some parasite, bacteria, virus or fungus in the gut and took the anti parasite herbal treatment. I'm still not sure if this made a difference, sometimes I used too many things together.I started taking olive leaf extract and grapefruit pip extract and these things made me feel much better but they also killed off everything in the gut and I had to use a lot of good bacteria too, a couple of hours afterwards, otherwise I got worse again with a vengeance. I used a really good probiotic called primal defense.I was feeling a whole lot better and my symptoms were greatly relieved. Apart from the stomach and gut problems you describe so well, a few of my other symptoms follow: I had foot pains that were like walking on knives, often spontaneious internal haemmorrhaeges anywhere in the body, the nastiest of which made the whites of my eyes completely red like dracula, debilitating bachaches of every kind, extreme stiffness in all my joints so I couldn't twist my torso enough to wipe my bottom or back my car and sharp stabbing pains anywhere in my body at different times.The list is way too long to write down here but the worst of the lot was the brainfog which made me slow and stupid; I was used to being quite quick and sharp in the mind. Really that resulted in a kind of personality change that would seem permanent until very occasionally my old me got a momentary peak through to recognition.The olive leaf and grapefruit pip stuff worked pretty well but not altogether and I still didn't know what was causing everything, but at least I now knew that these were not separate undiagnosable illnesses anymore and I spent years researching on the net, too ill to do anything else.A couple of months ago after a bad spell again, I decided that systemic candidiasis could possibly cover my symptoms and would at least be easy to eliminate, so I started to research it and found oreganol, a very concentrated oregano extract. I also used Candigest, an enzyme based alternative candida treatment.Within two weeks all my symptoms went away except a couple of instances where a little damage has become permanent. I am now 57 and have been suffering since I was a little girl but since I had learned to cope with the more obvious symptoms of candida it took fifty years to find out that I had it.As it turns out, when candidiasis has spread through the gut wall and invaded every part of the body as it did with me, it can turn eventually into blood poisoning, organ failure and death. I only found that out last week and I'm probably very lucky that that hasn't happened.It is apparently a much more common disease than has been believed and quite hard to get rid of. It almost always causes irritable bowel though obviously IBS can have other causes.Anyone with IBS would do well to eliminate candidiasis from the possible causes, which isn't so hard with oreganol and candigest. olive leaf can do it too but takes much longer. Since it is such an insidious and dangerous disease, I would advise any longstanding IBS sufferer to check it out. Get well soon, sue.

      April 7, 2012 at 17:12 | Report abuse |
  10. Sue

    You're kidding. An antidepressant for stress-induced diarrhea? Seriously?? Ridiculous. Unless you have this problem on a daily basis, and it can be confirmed that it's stress-related, an anti-depressant is overkill.

    November 27, 2011 at 17:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Anxiety foods

    Panic attacks tend to be related to folks struggling with anxiety disorders as well as at times can become a new probably fatalistic well being risk when not managed ...Anxiety

    February 1, 2012 at 12:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Tam

    Hi Kate, your website is a great rcosuree! I was recently diagnosed with SIBO and being a nutrition and dietetics student, studying to be an RD, I did some research and found out about this diet. I am working with my gastroenterologist and a RD who is very familiar with this diet. I am in the elimination phase and based on your revised list there are some things that I was advised not to have and some I could have, these foods are in the moderate polyols & fructans.GOS area. Do you recommend I restrict any of these during the elimination phase? Avocados, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts for example I have been avoiding. Also, I react to grapes and do not eat them but enjoy my red wine? Thoughts on if red wine is okay then. The RD I am seeing also wants me to avoid peanut butter, and I love PB, for the elimination phase because of the way it ferments for people with overgrowth, do you think it is okay? Also, some stuff is under researched still such as pomegranate and goji berries. Nature's path food has a gluten free cereal called whole O's and these are the INGREDIENTS: Brown rice flour*, corn flour*, evaporated cane juice*, pomegranate juice concentrate*, sea salt. *Organic. Because of the pomegranate juice is this not fodmap friendly?Thanks for all your help on this issue, it is great to know I can look on your blog for a reliable rcosuree for information. I am also attending the conference in NH, so I am looking forward to learning more about this.Thanks,Kristen

    April 14, 2012 at 13:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Bobby Zerom

    Olive leaf (Olea europaea) was first used medicinally in Ancient Egypt. It is gaining recognition as a powerful defender against sickness."

    My blog page
    http://www.healthmedicinelab.com/umbilical-hernia-in-adults/

    November 13, 2012 at 12:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Dante Christin

    The first pressing of oil from olives, referred to as extra virgin olive oil, is highly prized among chefs worldwide, and is credited with playing an important role in the overall healthy nature of the Mediterranean diet. Easy-to-cook-with and delicious in flavor, olive oil has earned a reputation for its health benefits as well as for its versatility of use.""..'

    My personal internet page <http://www.healthdigest101.com

    June 30, 2013 at 02:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Eldon Zaffalon

    Oregano, commonly called "the pizza herb," is one of the most widely-used herbs worldwide, so it is hard to imagine anyone not having tried it. However, oregano was virtually unused in America until returning World War II soldiers heightened the popularity of pizza. ;,`-

    Most popular content coming from our internet site
    <http://healthmedicine.co/

    June 30, 2013 at 07:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. RandiOrton

    I have issues like this a lot.. Should I get checked?

    November 2, 2015 at 12:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Natalie Lily

    I have had diarrhia for over a year,and have not really find cure, i have try all medication is not working out for me but it was the only the herbel of dr.abegbu i took that cure me totally i am free now from diarrhia if you need his help you can reach him through his email dr.abegbuhealer@gmail.com

    November 10, 2015 at 20:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. sandy sharma

    i am also suffering with diarrhea.i am suffering for last three days .i take some medicines and there is no effect on diarrhea.Fast food, street food is the main reason. I am taking treatment from good doctor and also tried some home remedies . You can check here: https://goo.gl/IwYXHT

    April 21, 2017 at 03:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Dave Bartholome

    In 2007, I had a mildly stressful job that suddenly turned into a very stressful job due to politics in the office. I managed to work another year and a half in that environment but started getting heavy bouts of diarrhea every two to six weeks that kept me down for two to three days. It was like something in my system closed off and everything below it came out in diarrhea and everything above it came out in vomit. My doctor tested my poop and my gall bladder but came up empty. He didn't think it was stress related, and at the time, I really didn't either. I got to where I could predict an upcoming episode by a unique taste in my mouth that told me I needed to find a bathroom and stay near it for a couple of days. Some of my co-workers accused me of faking it which just increased my stress level. I got to the point where I could usually eliminate the vomiting but it just made the episodes last longer. I cut out a lot of suspected foods in my diet and lost plenty of weight but the episodes continued. After using up all my sick time and vacation time, I was forced to retire. I relocated and moved in with my ninety year old dad and started leading a much calmer life. The episodes have lessened to about two or three a year and my new doctor said it may be IBS but since it has subsided, he's not going to subject me to more testing. In the last several years it has become obvious that it's due to stress because I only have episodes when my family visits- usually while they're here or shortly after they leave. Until now that is. I just had a moderately severe one that came out of the blue. Which is what has brought me to this page looking for other peoples stories. Thought I'd throw mine out there too. I will repost with the diagnosis if I ever find it. bartholomedavid@rocketmail,com

    May 6, 2017 at 01:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Joe C

    People without medical degrees or experience with this really make a lot of poor assumptions. Speaking from experience, this can be completely dsbilitating. I have dealt with this on multiple occasions and sometimes it canoccur every other day or last for weeks or even months with small reprieves and often causes bouts back and forth between constipation and diarrhea. It can make it impossible to work as the doarrhea is so severe that you have episodes of fecal incontinence or the constipation so severe that the stomach pain cannot be eased by morphine. No diet changes and no amount of weight loss will fix tbis as it is stress related. Even antidepressants and anxiety medication may fail or prove to cause more severe symptoms of IBS-D or IBS-C.

    September 6, 2017 at 17:26 | Report abuse | Reply

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