Probably IBS. But my anxiety thinks otherwise. Any thoughts?

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I'm suffering with (= being annoyed by) a kind of low-level nuisancey thing and I veer between not worrying about it much and worrying about it a great deal. I'll do my best to sum it up concisely.

It's probably important to mention that none of these symptoms are new. They've been going on, on and off sometimes, for years. I went to my GP a few times about it, once five years ago, once three years ago, when I had blood and stool tests (all clear/normal), and once two years ago. My GP diagnosed IBS and sent me away with a flea in my ear and a leaflet. Since then I haven't bothered my GP because a) there's nothing red-flaggy happening; and b) nothing much has changed. It certainly hasn't got any worse.

Background: I'm a white male in my late 30s. I have generally good health, and don't smoke (at all) or drink (much). My diet is OK, although I could probably stand to eat a few more apples and a little less sugar and artificial sweeteners. I'm a stone or so overweight but I'm shifting it at the moment. I'm physically active.

I have no family history of anything much (certainly not digestive system cancers) and I am generally from robust stock. My dad does have IBS and a generally stress-sensitive digestive system, and experiences many of the same symptoms as me. Otherwise, my parents are both healthy, and in their 70s. My grandparents all lived into their mid 80s at least, and in two cases into their 100s.

I also suffer from fairly constant anxiety. I can usually cover it up and get on with my day. Sometimes - like now - I have health anxiety flare-ups where I worry that I am seriously ill. The anxiety started around the same time as the digestive symptoms; around six years ago.

Onto the physical symptoms... the main ones are mild to moderate bloating, gas and sometimes a grumbly abdomen, and a slightly loose stool. Occasionally I get very mild cramps in my abdomen. They move around and more often than not aren't there at all. The cramps and bloating are usually eased by going to the toilet, or exercising.

TMI warning... when I go to the loo, it all comes out a bit quick. I'm loose (ish) but not liquid. More like... pieces, but slightly mushy. If we were looking at a Bristol scale I'd be between 5 and 6. My stool tends to tint the toilet water a light, clear brown. Otherwise I'm very regular. I go to the loo within an hour of waking up, almost always once a day.

When I get the bloating and cramps, it tends to go on for a period of a few weeks or months. The stool looseness is a bit more of a consistent thing, although it does wax and wane. I do experience it more often than not, though.

That's pretty much it. There is no bleeding (I assume the loo water thing isn't blood, as it doesn't look either bright red or sticky black. It's... stool-coloured). My stool is a normal sort of colour and odour. I have no pain, ever. I do not feel ill. My friends tell me I look well. I have plenty of energy; I work out pretty hard at the gym 5 or 6 times a week, with weights and HIIT training.

I feel like it's IBS + diet related, but starting to pin down what might be causing it seems to be a Herculean task. I don't even know where to start. In my darker moments I worry that I have some nasty thing going on in my bowel. But the evidence doesn't seem to support that. I'm not in the age range, have no family history and indeed don't experience any of the key symptoms. What symptoms I do have aren't consistent. (Besides the looseness, but that could signify any one of 100s of things, right?)

I guess I'm posting here because I'm after some reassurance (thanks, health anxiety) that others experience similar things. As I say, in my rational moments I go; well, my dad has virtually the same thing, has done for decades - it's probably IBS or an intolerance. Digestive system problems seem to cover a wide spectrum of things, and as it's a complicated bodily function it's not always easy to get a resolution in a sub-10 minute GP appointment.

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7 Replies

  • Posted

    Since your doctor diagnosed IBS, trust your doctor.  Your symptoms sound like IBS.  Anxiety will make your symptoms worse and will convince you constantly that you have something else.  Anxiety is linked to this condition. Since you have no red flags, you have not developed new symptoms or got worse, it is likely to be IBS.  

    IBS varies enormously between patients.  The symptoms you have one week may change in the following week.  It is not consistent. Alternating bowel habits from constipation to loose stools or diarrhoea is a key symptom of IBS.  I have had this with my IBS.  Your stools can also go back to normal and you can go through periods of no pain or any other symptom.  My IBS has been in remission for months but I did have a short pain flare up recently because of stress.  Buscopan fixed that along with Nurofen.  Ask your doctor for an antispasmodic or try over the counter Buscopan.  You may have to try several.

    IBS can cause food intolerance.  Try a food diary or the Low Fodmap Diet to identify food triggers which can vary between individuals too.  This diet is designed for IBS patients.  If you struggle with it, see a dietician.  Details of this food plan will be on the leaflet you got from your doctor about IBS.  I got this leaflet too.  You can also look up Fodmap online.

    Try distraction techniques such as light exercise such ss swimming or walking and concentrate on a hobby and that will stop your anxiety taking hold.

    My doctor diagnosed my IBS on the basis of my anxiety and stress levels that were sky high six months before my symptoms appeared.  He told me that I was suffering from Irritable bowel syndrome because I had had the same symptoms for three months and they were no better or worse and I had developed no new symptoms,   Giving me this specific and credible explanation, cured my raging health anxiety for good. 

    • Posted

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I agree - I should trust my doctor. Especially since I've actually been diagnosed twice, by different GPs, in different cities, with the same condition! But you know health anxiety... it's like the crazy flatmate in your head, constantly shouting out alarming stuff. And there's nothing like looking in the loo and not liking what you see...

      The thing about IBS being typified by having the symptoms for three months without them getting either better or worse is quite a helpful thing to hang onto. I seem to remember a GP telling me something like this too.

      I know - from lurking on this forum and also other areas online - that many people have IBS (and other conditions) far worse than I do. And I think that's what has stopped me seeking a conclusion to it. I always think, oh well, some people have awful pain, worse D or C, nausea. Mine isn't so bad, I'll just try to ignore it. That works... sometimes. But I think I'm going to take your advice and start looking at food exclusion. See if I can improve it, if not cure it.

    • Posted

      I noticed a post about cortisol levels.  Another reason for high cortisol levels could be your body’s stress response to dealing with your IBS and your anxiety about your symptoms. Although IBS cannot be cured, it can be sucessfully managed so that you get more prolonged periods of remission.

      Since you have been diagnosed twice with IBS, this sounds like you have been given a firm, confident diagnosis.

    • Posted

      That's interesting, I hadn't considered that cortisol could affect my system in this way. But the anxiety is very much the horse hoofbeat here, so I'll look into it. I do find that the less anxious I am, the better my symptoms are (although there is also a correlation with periods of eating rich food and cake, such as around Christmastime).

      Thank you so much for your considered responses. You've helped me feel a good deal calmer about this today. Be well. :-)

    • Posted

      When you get stressed cortisol and adrenaline levels rise. Food and stress are key factors in IBS.  

      When I am calm I also find I have no symptoms; food poses no real problem for me.  Glad you feel a bit calmer.


  • Posted

    Hi OwlsNTowels

    You mention you work out and weight train 5-6 times a week, you could be overworking your adrenals that sit at the top of your kidneys and release cortisol if they are stressed..In turn the high levels of cortisol can cause digestive system problems. Relax and the exercise and weights for a while and see if there is any change..or get your adrenals and cortisol levels wishes...

    • Posted

      Thanks for your reply. I did wonder about that, but to be honest my digestive symptoms pre-date my zeal for the weights room! On balance, working out does seem to help. Sometimes only for an hour or two, sometimes for the whole day. It doesn't change the looseness much but it does deflate me a bit if I'm bloated.

      I'll keep this in mind, though, and may get those levels checked at some point.

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