Question: Can stress cause digestive disorders?

Answer: Not that we know of. However, it can exacerbate existing digestive disorders.

And certainly the reverse holds true as well. Digestive disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (more specifically Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)or pancreatitis, can have a significant impact on the mental and behavioral health of patients, in addition to symptomatic hardships brought on by the disease.

Often times, those with digestive disorders can experience a variety of mental health issues, including:

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These can be induced by the unpredictability that comes along with these conditions. Digestive disorders can flare up at any time, leading to constant worry and sometimes a lower quality of life if not treated. For many digestive diseases that have no current cure, this can be especially disheartening.

Medications that are prescribed for IBD often come with side effects that induce psychological effects as well. However, many health care systems are turning to a dual treatment approach, such as the Visceral Inflammation and Pain Center at UPMC, part of the UPMC Digestive Health Care, by utilizing medical and psychological therapies to supplement medical treatment of the condition and improve quality of life.

Such psychological therapies may include:

  • Relaxation training and self-hypnosis
  • Patient education to regain disease control
  • Stress management techniques
  • Lifestyle modifications including sleep hygiene
  • Mind-body therapy
  • Counseling
  • Antidepressants and other psychotropic medications to target mood, pain, and fatigue.

The effects of these therapies can vary depending on the patient. Some patients may not require these treatments in addition to the medical therapies they’re already receiving. For others, such treatments can reduce expensive health care costs and physician visits, and are extremely encouraged. Patients on chronic narcotic medications for pain have also benefited by learning new behavioral skills and using non-opioid medications to reduce pain severity and suffering.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Digestive Disorders

UPMC Digestive Health Care cares for a wide range of gastrointestinal (GI) conditions and diseases, from diagnosis to treatment. Whether your digestive condition is common or complicated, our experts can help. Upon referral from your physician, we coordinate your testing and treatment. If you have a complicated condition, we can refer you to one of UPMC’s digestive health centers of excellence. Find a GI doctor near you.