As far as scientists know, irritable bowel syndrome doesn't cause depression, and depression doesn’t cause IBS. But for many people, the two go together. Sometimes, one condition can make the other one worse. It can be a frustrating cycle.
At the same time, treatments that usually relieve the mood disorder can help some people with their IBS symptoms, too. They can give you even more options to consider when you’re looking for relief.
Doctors don’t know for sure what causes irritable bowel syndrome, but some things seem to make people more likely to have it than others. These risk factors for IBS include:
Being a woman. About twice as many women as men have the condition. It’s not clear why, but some researchers think the changing hormones in the menstrual cycle may have something to do with it.
Age. IBS can affect people of all ages, but it's more likely for people in their teens through their 40s.
The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can cause a level of distress that looks like depression. Some people are so worried that their diarrhea, constipation, or other symptoms will flare up that they avoid going to work, school, or out with friends. They may focus less on their social lives and lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. They may feel restless or irritable. All of these are symptoms of depression.
On the other hand, the mood disorder may influence the way people handle IBS. They may feel too tired or hopeless to bother changing their diet to ease digestive symptoms or think they can't treat their constipation or diarrhea well enough. Also, emotional stress makes bowel symptoms worse.
Antidepressants for IBS
Some depression meds can treat the mood disorder and some of the symptoms of IBS. But they're used in different ways for each condition, so it's important to talk with your doctor to learn how you should take them.
Even people with irritable bowel syndrome who aren’t depressed can get relief from antidepressants. The drugs can help block how the brain processes pain.
The American College of Gastroenterology says two types of antidepressants can help IBS symptoms:
Tricyclic antidepressants, like amitriptyline (Elavil, Vanatrip), desipramine (Norpramin), or nortriptyline (Pamelor)
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), like citalopram (Celexa), paroxetine (Paxil), or sertraline (Zoloft)
But experts say they need more research to fully understand how safe and effective the drugs are for people with IBS.