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Anxiety and Bowel Urgency: Why Do Some People Feel The Urge When Anxious?

Update Date: Feb 15, 2017 08:41 AM EST
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Experts say that during anxiety attacks, the normal digestion process of some individuals is stopped and there is a rapid emptying of bowel contents. (Photo : Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Bowel urgency is commonly associated with stress and anxiety. The body's fight or flight system is activated leading to the release of hormones that can increase heart rate, sweating and a sudden irresistible need to go to the toilet.

Anxiety and stress disorders affect millions of people worldwide. According to Luis A. Natividad, a research associate in the Roberto lab, anxiety is something that everyone experiences on a daily basis. However, it is unclear what changes take place that turns the state of being into something debilitating. Studies have shown that people who are most anxious and depressed are likely to die by cancer of bowel, esophagus, pancreas and prostate.

Experts say that during anxiety attacks, the normal digestion process of some individuals is stopped and there is a rapid emptying of bowel contents. According to Marissa Roberto, a professor at The Scripps Research Insitute (TSRI), understanding the underlying mechanism is important or therapeutic efforts.

People experiencing anxiety related diarrhoea may need to modify their lifestyle. Keeping a food journal could be helpful so that they can easily identify foods that can trigger bowel urgency aside from the cause of anxiety.

Dr Daphne Ang, senior consultant of gastroenterology and hepatology of Changi General Hospital, said that it is helpful to avoid eating during anxiety attacks. Eating triggers contractions in the large intestine which leads to passage of bowel contents into the rectum causing bowel urgency.

According to her, anxiety related diarrhea will resolve on its own when lifestyle changes are made. However, if modification has been done, but the bowel urgency persists, one should seek medical advice.

Another reason for bowel urgency, aside from anxiety, is structural defects of the pelvic floor muscles which are caused by the following: multiple childbirth, surgery, radiotherapy, sphincter muscle weakness and reduced sensitivity of the rectum.

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