Is That Belly Ache in Your Head?


When bathroom issues put a cramp in your life, the most effective treatment may target both your gut and your mood. A Boston University study found that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were 40% more likely than those who didnt have IBS to suffer from depression too. IBS is a common disorder, especially among women. Depression doesnt bring on IBS, experts say, and IBS doesnt cause depression.

“But often the two conditions travel together,” says Olafur Palsson, PsyD, an associate professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina. Why? Nobody knows for sure—stress hormones may play a role—but the right remedy may address the connection. If youve got chronic gastrointestinal problems, experts suggest the following steps to get real relief.

Keep a daily mood and symptom diary for a week or two, noting any relationship between stressful events, mood swings, and your symptoms. “That way you can present a whole picture to your physician,” Dr. Palsson says.

Tell your doctor if you think you may be depressed. And speak up if youre experiencing headaches or puzzling pain and fatigue. The Boston University study found that irritable bowel also seems to be associated with migraine and fibromyalgia, a syndrome in which people feel overwhelmingly achy and tired.

Dont be surprised if your doctor suggests a depression medication. Studies show that certain antidepressants actually relieve some symptoms of IBS, particularly abdominal pain. And thats something to feel good about.