Can stress cause constipation?

Written by: Dr Aathavan Loganayagam
Edited by: Conor Lynch

Stress, as we all know, can wreak havoc across all aspects of our daily lives and can affect us in a host of different ways. In our latest article, revered London-based gastroenterologist, Mr Aathavan Loganayagam, explains how stress can adversely affect the bowel and gut, and describes how constipation can be a direct result of one experiencing stress.

Can stress cause constipation?

The short answer is yes, it can indeed. Stress can certainly play a role in making us constipated, and how we cope with being stressed or worried can also be a factor. We all experience and cope with stress in our own unique way. Some people thrive on it, while others have to deal with its uncomfortable or sometimes distressing effects.


Our brain and gut are in constant communication with each other, and what affects the brain can affect the gut and vice versa. Stress, and other emotions such as anxiety, depression or grief, can disturb this brain-gut communication and trigger uncomfortable gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and painful stomach cramps.


What exactly is the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) and how does it contribute to constipation?

The gut has its own nervous system, which is referred to in medical terms as the ENS (Enteric Nervous System). The ENS is made up of millions of neurons that help control various activities in the gut, including movement, blood flow and stomach secretions.


Stress, which can severely affect us emotionally, physically and mentally, begins in the brain. When we are stressed, the brain signals for help and stress hormones are released. These hormones may (either directly or indirectly) affect the bowel causing dysfunction.


In what ways can stress affect the gut?

Stress can affect the gut in a number of different ways. The gut muscles can be affected, causing constipation or diarrhoea by either slowing or speeding up the movement of food.


Stress can also weaken the gut’s barrier that prevents food related bacteria entering the body, and changes can occur in the millions of bacteria that make up our gut microbiota. These changes result in a weakened gut barrier, slowed gut movement and can significantly affect one’s mood.


What is the relationship between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and stress?

Stress can be a factor in other bowel-related conditions, possibly helping to trigger an illness or worsening symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an example of a common condition that can be affected by stress and where constipation can be a problem.


Although the exact causes of IBS are not yet known, strong emotions caused by stress can trigger an attack. People with IBS are thought to have sensitive bowels that can become easily upset and react to the stress-related changes occurring in the gut.


What foods cause constipation?

One of our in-built responses to stress is a change in eating habits. When we are stressed, plenty of us gravitate towards comfort foods, usually those that are high in fat and sugar give us pleasure. These are exactly the types of foods that are low in fibre and fluids that can commonly bring on constipation or make it worse.


How can one help avoid becoming constipated?

It is highly advisable to maintain a regular daily routine that does not alter too much from one day to the other. We should also ensure that we have enough fibre and fluids in our diet and it is important to stay as active as we possibly can. An active lifestyle with a healthy, balanced diet can do wonders when it comes to avoiding constipation.


Mr Aathavan Loganayagam is a highly esteemed and skilled London-based gastroenterologist who specialises in bowel-related medical conditions. If you are currently suffering from constipation and would like to consult with an experienced and trusted medical professional, then make sure you check out Mr Loganayagam’s Top Doctors profile.

By Dr Aathavan Loganayagam

Dr Aathavan Loganayagam trained in medicine at Guy’s, King's and St. Thomas’ medical schools. He then underwent rigorous structured specialty training in gastroenterology and general internal medicine in the well respected South London training programme.

He then spent two years during postgraduate training as a research and endoscopy fellow at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals, London. His research was in the fields of pharmacogenetics, inflammatory bowel disease and gastrointestinal malignancy. He has received awards and grants for outstanding research work, including the prestigious NHS Innovation London Award.

Dr Loganayagam has numerous publications in peer reviewed journals on all aspects of gastroenterology. He is actively involved in clinical research. He has particular local expertise in the practice of personalised medicine and the utilisation of novel therapeutic agents in the treatment of complex inflammatory bowel disease. He is currently the lead clinician for endoscopy at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich.

Diagnostic and advanced therapeutic endoscopy remains a major part of his clinical expertise, including assessment and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, strictures, polyps and cancers.

Dr Loganayagam is an approachable doctor who takes pride in his communication skills with patients. He is keen to ensure that patients are fully informed and involved in all aspects of their care.

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