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Can anxiety cause diarrhea? What’s the major link?

Can anxiety cause diarrhea? What’s the major link?

Have you ever wondered why you feel nauseous or sick in your stomach after hearing any sad news or becoming a victim of any stressful situation? The answer lies in the strong association between the nervous and digestive systems. The direct signaling of neurons between them is responsible for diarrhea and some other symptoms. However, if you want to know how can anxiety cause diarrhea then read this article thoroughly. You will get an absolute insight into how nerves cause diarrhea. Furthermore, you will also come to know what you can do to stop anxiety diarrhea. You will get a clear insight into how anxiety or depression can cause physical, physiological as well as cognitive issues.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s response to any sudden or unexpected situation. In addition, stress is not always worse as a little bit of stress is effective in keeping the person motivated. If the issues in the digestive system occur, then diarrhea can occur. Moreover, various other physical symptoms also appear in the body including abdominal cramps.

What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is a common medical condition that involves loose watery stools as well as irritable and more frequent bowel movements. Due to various gastrointestinal issues, diarrhea occurs. In most of the intestinal disorders, diarrhea occurs as a symptom. While in some cases, diarrhea also causes the development of other body symptoms which include vomiting, nausea as well as abdominal pain. Moreover, some people also experience drastic changes in their weight. Although, this condition disturbs the person’s entire mood the person can receive appropriate treatment.

Can stress and anxiety cause diarrhea?

Under different stressful situations, the body responds differently. Most of the person experience diarrhea after facing fear. If the diarrhea occurs specifically due to stress or any frightening situation, then this condition is referred to as stress-induced diarrhea. During a stressful situation, the brain sends a signal to the body to deal with the current situation. Diarrhea symptoms are also the body’s response toward stressful situations. Therefore, stress and anxiety can cause diarrhea.

However, you will not only experience diarrhea or any abdominal issue alone but there is also the probability that you will suffer from other conditions. Initially, the person feels the cramps, and then the major diarrhea symptoms occur. However, some other common symptoms that result from diarrhea include:

  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Irritability
  • Persistent sadness
  • Reduced appetite
  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Common cold
  • Overeating patterns
  • Reduced functioning of the immune system

How does stress cause diarrhea?

There are various concepts regarding the connection between stress and diarrhea. Different studies have their distinct concepts regarding what can nerves cause diarrhea or can anxiety cause diarrhea. But the main fact lies in the association of the brain and gastrointestinal tract which is referred to as the gut-brain axis. The brain is the major organ that controls all the body functions including digestive functions. The brain is considered an integral component of the nervous system as well as the entire body.

Release of chemical messengers

Different hormones are released by the brain which affects the functioning of other body organs. The effective functioning of neurotransmitters is essential for entire body stability. When the person is stressed, stress hormones are released in the blood and travel to the gut. After reaching the gut area, hormones affect the concentration of water and electrolytes.

Effect of Adrenaline hormone

Adrenaline is the major hormone that is involved in inducing stress-induced diarrhea. This hormone causes the redistribution of blood to organs. When the person is experiencing diarrhea, blood flow gets increased to the brain, muscles, skin lungs, and other body organs. However, the rate of blood flow towards the gastrointestinal cavity decreases. Therefore, the functioning of the gut gets disturbed and leads to diarrhea as well as various other health issues.

Muscle stiffening

Stress hormones also cause the stiffening of muscles around the gut so the person gets more done toward the condition of diarrhea. Intestines are majorly affected and their ability to food digestion and reabsorption gets affected. In some cases, the speed of gut functioning gets slowed down while on the other hand, some persons experience the major severe effects.

Inflammatory compounds

In most cases, the diarrhea symptoms also elevate the rate of stress or the sensation of discomfort. Some researchers support the fact that diarrhea due to anxiety can result from the excessive amount of inflammation in the body. Their high level strongly impacts the digestive system as the gastrointestinal tract then absorbs more water in stools. Moreover, the extent of this condition increased with the elevated level of stress. Increased stress factors cause the release of excessive inflammatory compounds which prevent the body from absorbing the water and result in diarrhea.

The person faces difficulty in dealing with both stress and diarrhea symptoms. So if you are feeling some diarrhea symptoms then you might be suffering from anxiety at the same time. Therefore, you should not avoid the situation and consider it to take immediate measures to overcome the disturbing diarrhea.

What is the link between diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome?

If the episodes of diarrhea persist for a longer period then it can result the irritable bowel syndrome. IBS is also referred to as gastroenteritis. Some bacteria are also present in the gut that assist in the process of digestion. However, in some cases, irritable bowel syndrome can cause the overgrowth of gut bacteria.

Irritable bowel syndrome can also result in diarrhea as well as bloating, constipation, and severe abdominal cramps. However, the symptoms can get worse with time and can extend for several hours, days, or even months. Proper medical assistance is always required to overcome this condition. Experts guide the person on which medicines are effective and how to alter the lifestyle changes to manage the condition.

Different studies have reported that persons suffering from irritable bowel syndrome are more likely to suffer from diarrhea at the same time. However, for some individuals, the situation is entirely different. Some individuals also experience stress-induced diarrhea without having irritable bowel syndrome. There are different ways to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome which include:

  • Fecal tests
  • Blood tests
  • Allergy tests
  • Colonoscopy
  • Sigmoidoscopy
What are the main types of Irritable bowel syndrome?

There are three different types of irritable bowel syndrome which vary based on the symptoms and extent of severity.

Diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D)

This condition involves the immediate onset of diarrhea symptoms. The person feels nausea as well as diarrhea immediately after eating any food item. In addition, this condition usually happens after the morning meals.

Constipation-predominant IBS (IBS-C)

As the name indicates, this condition involves the occurrence of constipation. However, if the situation persists without any treatment then it can also result the abdominal cramps.

Mixed IBS (IBS-M)

Mixed irritable bowel syndrome involves alternating periods of constipation and diarrhea. If you are the victim of any anxiety attack, then there is a greater probability that you will suffer from mixed irritable bowel syndrome.

Does diarrhea occur at a specific period?

Anyone can experience stress or anxiety at times. Likewise, diarrhea from anxiety and other associated body symptoms also occur anytime and anywhere. Symptoms are not limited to a specific gender or any factor. Men, women, teenagers as well as children can experience anxiety and anxiety-induced diarrhea. The onset of symptoms simply includes the brain signaling towards the gastrointestinal tract. Moreover, some people experience diarrhea once a day, while on the other hand, some experience it numerous times a day. It depends on the internal body condition and strength of the gastrointestinal tract.

Can an anxiety attack cause diarrhea?

There is a greater probability that persons dealing with stress or anxiety symptoms also experience panic attacks. Primarily, different studies have reported that anxiety attacks cause diarrhea. However, the occurrence of panic attacks affects the extent of diarrhea symptoms. Under the effects of panic attacks, the gut exhibits more stronger or more profound response. Anxiety attacks cause diarrhea symptoms either during or after the panic attacks end.

As the duration of anxiety symptoms varies, episodes of diarrhea can also last for several hours or days. However, if the episodes of diarrhea are extended then it does mean that the person will surely get severely affected. Because most of the diarrhea symptoms are less damaging and do not cause major adverse effects even after being extended for one or two days. But the situation is not the same for all as some persons get some major side effects if the condition is left untreated such as:

  • Several abdominal cramps
  • Dehydration
  • Frequent stools with discharge of blood or pus
How to stop anxiety diarrhea?

In most cases, stress-induced diarrhea vanishes when the stressful event ends. But if you experience persistent diarrhea and you feel that your health is getting disturbed then you need to consult with a highly professional expert to overcome the situation.

Some significant lifestyle alterations

If you do not want to rely on medication or therapy, you can also manage stress-induced diarrhea by making some positive alterations to your lifestyle. What you need to do is to change your lifestyle to deal with diarrhea from anxiety.

Spend time at home

As stress-induced diarrhea can also result the irritable bowel syndrome, you should avoid moving out. If your child is facing that situation, then you should ask him to stay at home to avoid any issues at school. Until the bowel movements get resolved properly, spend your time at home and keep yourself busy with different productive activities. In this way, you will get rid of your stress as well. Your mind will remain busy instead of paying attention to the stress factors and stress-induced symptoms.

Absolute Nutrition

A healthy diet is the key to staying fit and healthy with a balanced mind. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables to get the required water intake. Avoid processed foods and those products that can affect the normal functioning of your gut. Moreover, make sure that you are getting the fruits in solid form. However, try to avoid the intake of fruit juices as well as sugary soft drinks and cordials. The intake of these drinks can prolong stress-induced diarrhea.

Avoid caffeinated products

In addition, you should also avoid alcohol, caffeine, or any carbonated beverages. These different gut stimulants contain the undesired concentration of electrolytes which causes the elevated absorption of electrolytes and water. However, the person experiences a major loss of essential salts and water. But you can treat this condition by the intake of oral rehydration solutions.

Artificial sweeteners

Most of the person prefer different sweeteners in their daily routine for taste. However, if you want to make your gut healthy and avoid diarrhea, then stop taking artificial sweeteners. Moreover, if you are already suffering from stress-induced diarrhea and taking artificial sweeteners then you are not doing good for yourself. Some common sweeteners include mannitol and sorbitol.

Decreased fiber intake

If you think that your stress will activate your diarrhea symptoms then you should stop taking fiber-rich foods. Nuts, grains, seeds, and some vegetables are rich in fiber. Moreover, all the green leafy vegetables are also a rich source of fiber. Excessive amounts of fiber cause the bulking of stool to a major extent. So anxiety causes loose stool. This in turn causes their increased passage via the intestines and results in diarhea. Likewise, you should also avoid taking the soluble fibers as they absorb the water into the intestine. Majorly, they cause the softening of stools and can trigger the symptoms of diarrhea.

Meditation exercises

As anxiety is the major reason for diarrhea or other anxiety-associated symptoms, therefore, you should treat your anxiety first. Make a habit to perform the daily yoga and meditation exercises. Your brain will remain active and strong and avoid focusing on stressful situations. During the stress, muscles around the gut or abdominal cavity are also stiffed but if you perform the daily exercise, the muscles contract and relax appropriately. In this way, the gut will perform a better function, and stool movements will also get better. Ultimately, diarrhea symptoms will also get decreased.

Relaxation techniques

Some relaxation techniques are also effective in regulating the body’s normal response during stress. Relaxation techniques assist you in overcoming the symptoms of anxiety and stress-induced diarrhea. Some common relaxation techniques include deep breathing exercises and mind relaxation exercises. Furthermore, some exercises provide a relaxing effect to the muscles of the gut or abdominal cavity. This causes relaxed and normal bowel movements.

Adequate sleep

If you are not getting adequate sleep then your mind will never be relaxed. If the person takes sufficient sleep then different soothing harmonies hormones are released. Then the brain remains protected from anxiousness and becomes more capable of dealing with any stressful situation. Protection from anxiety also protects the body from different anxiety disorders such as stress-induced diarrhea.

Medication management

Health experts also recommend different medications to treat the diarrhea which include:


These medicines are used to reduce the incidence of diarrhea. Some common antidiarrheals include imodium.


As diarrhea results in the excessive contraction of abdominal muscles, these medicines reduce the contractions and provide relief from abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Some common antispasmodics include bentyl as well as hyoscyamine.

Bile acid sequestrants

In some cases, the excessive production of bile in the liver also results the diarrhea which can cause diarrhea. However, bile acid sequestrants reduce this effect and also lessen the occurrence of diarrhea. Bile acid sequestrants which are most commonly used include cholestyramine

Alosetron hydrochloride

This medication is specifically used to treat irritable bowel syndrome.


Most of the persons face difficulty in handling stress and stress-induced diarrhea. They are unable to do anything alone and need the assistance of others. Such persons should rely on psychotherapy. Different psychotherapies are effective in assisting the individual that how to prevent stress factors and ultimately diarrhea. Mental health experts guide them on how to manage their stress and diarrhea symptoms. Individuals suffering from anxiety can comfortably share their disturbing thoughts and emotions with the experts. Then experts teach them different techniques to cope with the anxiety. Then reduced anxiety ultimately causes the reduction of diarrhea symptoms.


Hypnotherapy affects the sense of awareness and also provides a calming and soothing effect. Individuals suffering from anxiety are unable to pay attention to important details. The initial hypnotherapy sessions involve hypnotic induction. Then based on the person’s condition, therapists made suggestions on how to alter the thought patterns that affect the anxiety. Moreover, different studies have reported that hypnotherapy is as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy or treating anxiety disorders.

The wrap-up!

Both stress and anxiety can cause diarrhea. If you are taking the stress then it is obvious that nerves can cause diarrhea and some other gut issues. Stress or anxiety causes loose stools due to various physiological reasons. If you are experiencing loose watery poops three times a day or more then and also facing stress then you are the victim of stress-induced diarrhea. Stress and anxiety can also cause irritable bowel syndrome which is the severe condition of diarrhea.

Effective preventive measures, therapy, and some positive lifestyle changes can assist you in coping with this situation. Moreover, at Inland Empire Behavioral Group, you can find the best solutions to treat the condition that can anxiety cause diarrhea. Our top-notch experts perform an effective evaluation and then treat the condition. They will guide you on how can stress and anxiety cause diarrhea and what you need to do to prevent this condition. So if you think that your anxiety is affecting your digestive system then don’t wait any longer. Seek professional assistance from our experts and live a prosperous life without any physical or cognitive issues.

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Dr. Reri Uku


Dr. Reri Uku is a board certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP-BC). Her expertise lies in her ability to provide quality, compassionate, and comprehensive mental health
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