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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Depression

Stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation can cause enough distress in a person's life. But often they are not the only problems. Studies show that anywhere from about 50% to 90% of people who seek treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) also have some psychiatric disorder. This may include panic disorder, anxiety, or major depression. Although anxiety is often a problem for IBS patients, depression can also play a role in aggravating symptoms. As far as scientists know, IBS does not cause depression, nor does depression cause IBS. Together, however, they can wreak havoc on a person's life.


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Who Is at Risk for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

It is not clear what causes irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, but certain factors seem to make some people more vulnerable than others. Risk factors for IBS include: Sex. About twice as many women as men suffer from IBS, reports the American College of Gastroenterology. Researchers aren't sure why this is so, but they suspect that changing hormones in the female menstrual cycle may have something to do with it. Age. IBS can affect people of all ages, but it is more likely...

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How IBS and Depression Work Together

Some people are so worried that their IBS symptoms will flare up that they avoid going to work, school, or social functions. This fear may make them withdraw from social life. They may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. They may feel restless or irritable. All these are symptoms of depression.

Or, the feeling of despair caused by depression may influence the way people cope with their IBS. They may feel too tired or hopeless to bother changing their diet to ease IBS symptoms. In the dark cloud of depression, people may think they can't treat IBS-related constipation or diarrhea effectively.

People with IBS may notice that emotional stress worsens their symptoms. People who are stressed often are more aware of pain and discomfort. IBS with depression can be a frustrating, often painful cycle.


Breaking the IBS, Depression Cycle

Some antidepressants are used to treat both depression and some of the symptoms of IBS. But they're used in different ways for each condition, so it's important talk with your doctor to learn if you're truly depressed.

For example, Beth Schorr-Lesnick, MD, FACG, a gastroenterologist at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York, prescribes low doses of antidepressants to some patients who don't have depression. The drugs help block the brain's perception of pain, she says.

A number of studies have found that antidepressants can help with some IBS symptoms. Indeed, treatment guidelines published by the American College of Gastroenterology notes that tricyclic antidepressants like nortriptyline (Pamelor, Aventyl), amitriptyline, or desipramine (Norpramin) or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like citalopram (Celexa), paroxetine (Paxil), or sertraline (Zoloft), may help soothe IBS symptoms. But they also go on to say that more data are needed to be sure that antidepressants would be safe to use in the treatment of IBS.

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