Wednesday, 12 June 2013
Does anxiety give you stomach pain?
Are you prone to anxiety and do you suffer from recurrent stomach pain, diarrhoea or constipation?
You could have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common chronic condition linked to psychological
disorders such as anxiety and depression.
IBS affects the large intestine or colon, which is the last portion of the digestive tract. If you have
IBS, your bowel movements may be stronger or slower than normal.
“While there are multiple factors leading to irritable bowel syndrome, there is a strong association
with psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression. However, it is not always clear whether
the anxiety or depression causes IBS or results from the IBS symptoms,” says Dr Wang Yu Tien,
Consultant, Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
“IBS is a common condition that affects 9 per cent of the population in Singapore. In some other
countries it can affect up to 20 per cent,” he adds.
IBS can affect people of any age but it has been found to be more common in those aged 20-30.
Related article: Don’t put up with frequent diarrhoea or constipation!
Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
The symptoms of IBS range from mild to severe. They are:
Stomach pain or cramping
Incomplete bowel clearance
Mucus in the stool
Other less common symptoms include tiredness, backache, urinary frequency, and poor sleep.
For the vast majority of patients, the symptoms are quite mild and don’t require treatment. However
chronic recurrent symptoms can cause discomfort and inconvenience which adversely affect quality
of life, says Dr Wang.
Diagnosis of IBS is based on the patient’s medical history as well as routine tests. A patient who
suffers from abdominal pain or discomfort associated with altered bowel habits is diagnosed with IBS
when routine tests such as blood tests, scans and endoscopy fail to detect any other problem.
Patients who have other symptoms such as blood in the stools and unexplained weight loss may
require further investigation to rule out more serious conditions such as colon cancer.
Related article: How to find and stick to an IBS diet that will help
Risk factors for IBS
The exact cause of IBS is unknown. However, a combination of physiological and psychological
factors may play a role in its development. These risk factors include:
Overly sensitive nerves in the colon
Abnormalities in the nervous system or colon
Bacterial overgrowth or unfriendly bacteria in the gut
The link between anxiety, depression and IBS
There is a strong link between IBS on the one hand, and anxiety and depression on the other hand.
However, it is unclear which one comes first.
“Psychological disorders can affect the way we perceive discomfort coming from the intestinal tract,”
says Dr Wang.
A study carried out by SGH found that almost half of 345 IBS patients screened from November 2010
to October 2011 had psychological disorders.
The most common psychological disorder associated with IBS is anxiety, followed by depression.
“We now screen all our severe IBS patients for psychological disorders. When we find a
psychological disorder we refer the patient to a psychiatrist or psychologist for intervention,” says Dr
“Understanding this condition can give patients the reassurance to live with this condition. A lot of
patients want reassurance that this is not cancer,” he adds.
Related article: Take control of IBS with proven lifestyle tips
Do you suffer from painful stomach cramps, a bloated abdomen and bowel woes? These are common
symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and you can learn about this chronic condition at a
Public Forum organised by SGH. "Irritable Bowel Syndrome - Manage it Right" will be held on
Saturday, 29 June 2013, from 9am to noon. Click here for more information.
This article was written by Anjana Motihar Chandra for Health Xchange, with expert input from the
Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
Looking for doctor’s advice and health tips from the experts? Visit HealthXchange.com.sg,
Singapore's trusted health and lifestyle portal.
Health Xchange's articles are meant for informational purposes only and cannot replace professional
surgical, medical or health advice, examination, diagnosis, or treatment.