PTSD Related Conditions The Relationship Between PTSD and IBS By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD Twitter Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. Learn about our editorial process Updated on September 29, 2020 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 Akeem Marsh, MD Medically reviewed by Akeem Marsh, MD LinkedIn Twitter Akeem Marsh, MD, is a board-certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist who has dedicated his career to working with medically underserved communities. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Anna Bizon / Getty Images At first glance, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may not seem to have any special connection. However, PTSD and IBS often occur together. If you have PTSD, IBS, or both, understanding how they're connected can help you seek out the most appropriate treatment. Irritable Bowel Syndrome Statistics and Causes IBS is a digestive disorder that's more common than you may think. Here are some statistics: Between 25 and 45 million Americans have IBSTen percent to 15 percent of people worldwide have IBSIBS is more common among women; 2 out of 3 sufferers are femaleMost people who have IBS are under 50 years old People with IBS have chronic abdominal pain and major problems with bowel function such as urgent diarrhea, chronic constipation, or at different times both. IBS appears to stem from a malfunction in how the intestines work; however this malfunction is not well understood or easily detected. The causes of IBS are not completely understood either, but there is evidence connecting IBS with certain mental health problems. For example, compared to people without IBS, people with IBS are more likely to have mood and anxiety disorders. The mental health problems occur first, then the IBS, suggesting that having any of these problems may increase your risk of developing IBS. The Connection Between PTSD and IBS If you have PTSD, you'll be interested to learn that anxiety disorders, particularly PTSD, are the mental health problems most likely to occur before IBS. In fact, there's a strong link between stress and IBS. People who have IBS also seem to have higher rates of exposure to traumatic events. For example, one study of 21,264 urban African Americans found that 8.2 percent had IBS, with nearly 82 percent of those being female. The study also found a strong association between PTSD and IBS: African Americans with IBS are twice as likely to also have PTSD. A study of women veterans with and without IBS found that 22 percent of the women with IBS also had PTSD compared to 11 percent of the women who didn't. Why Traumatic Events and PTSD Can Lead to IBS It's not clear why traumatic events and PTSD can lead to IBS, but it's likely that chronic stress from a traumatic event or PTSD can harm your digestive system. In PTSD, your body's "fight or flight" response is frequently activated, releasing a substance in the brain called corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). Among other things, CRF increases mucus and water secretion in your colon and disrupts colon motility (speed of muscle contraction). It's likely, then, that high levels of CRF contribute to the development of IBS in people with PTSD. What's more, since most of the world is affected by trauma to varying degrees without meeting full criteria for PTSD, this is something that potentially could be contributing to the prevalence of IBS. The Link Between PTSD and Fight or Flight Response The Benefits of Treating Both PTSD and IBS If you have PTSD and IBS, the stress of having PTSD can make your IBS symptoms worse—and vice versa. Fortunately, treating your PTSD may also improve your IBS. One of the most effective treatments for PTSD is exposure therapy and other options are also available. If you're looking for a PTSD treatment provider, a number of websites can help you connect with providers in your area. The Best Online Therapy Programs We've tried, tested and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, Betterhelp, and Regain. 6 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. Canavan C, West J, Card T. The epidemiology of irritable bowel syndrome. Clin Epidemiol. 2014;6:71–80. doi:10.2147/CLEP.S40245 Sanna L, Stuart AL, Pasco JA, et al. Physical comorbidities in men with mood and anxiety disorders: a population-based study. BMC Med. 2013;11:110. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-110 Mykletun A, Jacka F, Williams L, et al. Prevalence of mood and anxiety disorder in self reported irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). An epidemiological population based study of women. BMC Gastroenterol. 2010;10:88. doi:10.1186/1471-230X-10-88 Ng QX, Soh AYS, Loke W, Venkatanarayanan N, Lim DY, Yeo WS. Systematic review with meta-analysis: The association between post-traumatic stress disorder and irritable bowel syndrome. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2019;34(1):68-73. doi:10.1111/jgh.14446 White DL, Savas LS, Daci K, et al. (2010). Trauma History and Risk of the Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Women Veterans. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 2010;32(4):551-561. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2010.04387.x Enck P, Aziz Q, Barbara G, et al. Irritable bowel syndrome. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2016;2:16014. doi:10.1038/nrdp.2016.14 Additional Reading Harvard Health Publishing. Stress and the Sensitive Gut. Harvard Medical School. Updated August 21, 2019. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. Facts About IBS. Updated November 24, 2016. By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? 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