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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

Stress Therapy Can Help Irritable Bowel

Don't Just Put Up With Symptoms; Treatments Can Improve Life Quality
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Mental health had a similar impact; patients who felt tense had a 14% lower mental health-related quality of life. When their IBS symptoms interfered with their sexual function, they had a 4% lower mental health-related quality of life. For those who had both problems, their mental health-related quality of life was 17% lower.

"We have to spend some time talking about these emotional issues," Spiegel tells WebMD. "Sometimes, all that's necessary is letting a patient know it's not cancer, that it will not cause cancer. That in itself can help relieve the depression and anxiety."

Stress Therapy, Medications Help

Many people put up with symptoms of IBS without getting treatment. "Yet the quality-of-life impact of IBS has been shown to be comparable to congestive heart disease and may be as great as diabetes," says William E. Whitehead, PhD, director of the Center for Functional GI and Motility Disorders Center at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

"The anxiety and stress can impact how well a patient interacts with friends and family," he tells WebMD. "Also, work absenteeism is three times higher for irritable bowel patients, compared to rest of the population."

There are a range of effective treatments for irritable bowel, says Whitehead. "Treatments range from low doses of antidepressants, hypnosis, [stress] therapy to dietary changes, medicines for constipation and diarrhea, a whole spectrum of treatments."

It's true that "with IBS one symptom can make other symptoms seem worse," says Ryan Madanick, MD, a gastrointestinal specialist at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "It's like when you're under stress, you tend to respond more negatively to stimuli that don't normally cause you problems, they irritate you. With IBS, it seems to be the same thing going on in the intestine.

"Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications probably help the most, because unfortunately stress-related disorders and IBS go hand in hand," Madanick tells WebMD. "If you can decrease the stress, you're breaking the cycle and improving overall quality of life."

Also, make regularly scheduled visits for irritable bowel problems, not visits on an emergency basis, he advises.

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