Panic Disorder Symptoms and Diagnosis Anxiety and GI Issues: What's the Connection? By Sheryl Ankrom, MS, LCPC Sheryl Ankrom, MS, LCPC LinkedIn Sheryl Ankrom is a clinical professional counselor and nationally certified clinical mental health counselor specializing in anxiety disorders. Learn about our editorial process Updated on April 01, 2023 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print LaylaBird / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Anxiety-Related GI Symptoms When to Seek Emergency Care GI Conditions Linked to Anxiety What to Do About Anxiety and Stomach Pain Frequently Asked Questions Anxiety and stomach issues often seem to occur together. A queasy stomach is a common experience for people experiencing anxiety, but anxiety may also contribute to other GI issues as well. Gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances commonly include symptoms of stomach pain, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and vomiting. While there are plenty of possible causes of GI issues, when no medical explanation is found, they are often termed “functional GI symptoms.” Many studies have shown a correlation between anxiety, depression, and functional GI symptoms. Generally, study results have demonstrated that people who have at least one GI symptom are more likely to have an anxiety disorder or depression than those without any GI symptoms. Unexplained physical complaints as a whole—including fatigue, headache, stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, and musculoskeletal pains—are more commonly reported in individuals with an anxiety disorder and/or depression. Press Play for Advice On Dealing With Anxiety Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring neuroscientist Dr. Wendy Suzuki, shares how to cope with anxiety and how you can use it to your advantage. Click below to listen now. Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts Common Anxiety-Related GI Issues GI symptoms may be associated with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), panic disorder, and phobias. Common GI symptoms that have been associated with anxiety disorders include: ConstipationDiarrheaIncreased hungerIndigestionLoss of appetiteNauseaStomach cramps Dangerous GI Symptoms Whether or not you believe your GI symptoms are anxiety-related, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible if your symptoms occur with any of the following: Blood in the stoolFeeling bloated or full after eating very littleHaving a bowel movement that is black, tarry, and foul-smellingPersistent, low-grade feverUnexplained weight loss These symptoms could mean you have another condition that requires treatment, like hemorrhoids, an infection, intestinal bleeding, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). While it can be concerning to know that these symptoms could indicate a serious condition, seeking medical help sooner rather than later will ensure that you receive the right treatment. Seek Immediate Care Seek immediate medical care if you have:Chest, neck, shoulder, or jaw painDisorientation or confusionHigh feverInability to have a bowel movementModerate to severe rectal bleedingRapid or significantly decreased heart rateSevere abdominal painSevere diarrhea lasting more than one dayVomiting blood (if the vomited matter looks like ground coffee, this may indicate blood) GI Conditions Linked to Anxiety Some GI conditions—such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)—have also been linked to anxiety disorders. IBS IBS is a GI disorder that causes symptoms like pain, bloating, cramping, flatulence (gas), whitish mucus in the stool, diarrhea, and constipation. While the condition is not life-threatening, it is chronic and can have a serious impact on a person's quality of life. People who have IBS are also often diagnosed with mood and anxiety disorders. IBS is a treatable condition. Making dietary changes can often help, as can managing your stress using strategies like yoga. The Link Between IBS and Anxiety GERD GERD is a digestive condition that causes acid reflux, which is when stomach acid enters the esophagus and leads to sensations like heartburn and trouble swallowing. Common symptoms of GERD include: Bad breathChest painDifficulty swallowingHoarseness of the voice, especially upon wakingMild pain or stuck-in-throat type sensationsPersistent dry cough Some research suggests that people who have GERD are also more likely to experience anxiety. While the exact reasons for this connection are not entirely understood, researchers suggest that high anxiety and stress levels may increase stomach acid and muscle tension that can contribute to symptoms of GERD. GERD is treatable with medication, diet, and lifestyle changes. What to Do About Anxiety and Stomach Pain You should consult with your healthcare provider if you are experiencing unexplained mild to moderate GI disturbances for more than a few days, or if your symptoms stop and then return. They may order tests or refer you to a specialist to rule out any serious medical problem that may be causing your symptoms. If your doctor determines that you have functional GI symptoms related to anxiety, there are many effective treatments available—both for your GI concerns and the underlying anxiety. Prescribed medications and psychotherapy can help you to reduce your feelings of anxiety and develop healthy ways to cope with stress. The Best Online Therapy Programs We've tried, tested and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, Betterhelp, and Regain. Coping With Anxiety and GI Issues Learning to manage your anxiety while treating your GI symptoms can be the most beneficial approach for helping you deal with both issues. To help cope with symptoms of anxiety and related GI problems, try: Avoiding excessive caffeine: Not only can caffeine increase feelings of anxiety, but many caffeine-containing products can also lead to GI upset. Changing your diet: Focusing on a gut-friendly diet may help calm symptoms of GI upset. Make sure that you are eating fiber-rich foods, and try adding foods containing probiotics to your diet (such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha). Some animal studies have suggested that probiotics may have anxiety-reducing effects, though more research is needed to understand their impact on human mental health. Practicing stress management techniques: Stress is a normal part of life, so developing good coping skills is important. Relaxation techniques that can help include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation. If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. Frequently Asked Questions Can anxiety cause GI problems? Yes, anxiety can cause a variety of GI problems, including consipation, nausea, diarrhea, indigestion, and stomach pain. You should talk to your doctor for advice on treatment and to rule out other potential causes. Can anxiety mess with your digestive system? The hormones and chemicals that are released by your body in times of stress can have an impact on the digestive system. They enter the digestive tract and affect the balance of bacteria in the gut. Anxiety can slow down digestion, which can lead to stomach and intestinal issues. What You Can Do to Cope With Anxiety 8 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Hartono JL, Mahadeva S, Goh KL. Anxiety and depression in various functional gastrointestinal disorders: Do differences exist? J Dig Dis. 2012;13(5):252-7. doi:10.1111/j.1751-2980.2012.00581.x De Heer EW, Gerrits MM, Beekman AT, et al. The association of depression and anxiety with pain: A study from NESDA. PLOS ONE. 2014;9(10):e106907. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106907 Lee C, Doo E, Choi JM, et al. The increased level of depression and anxiety in irritable bowel syndrome patients compared with healthy controls: Systematic review and meta-analysis. 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The anxiolytic effect of probiotics: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the clinical and preclinical literature. PLOS ONE. 2018;13(6):e0199041. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0199041 By Sheryl Ankrom, MS, LCPC Sheryl Ankrom is a clinical professional counselor and nationally certified clinical mental health counselor specializing in anxiety disorders. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Panic Disorder Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.