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Can Stress Affect My Digestive System?

help with digestive issues | GI North | north Atlanta area

Stress and Digestion: The Brain-Gut Link

Anyone who has ever felt butterflies in their stomach or felt their stomach was tied in knots, knows that stress affects digestion. Many people can’t eat when stressed while others tend to overeat, and some are running to the bathroom while others find using the bathroom increasingly difficult. Even low levels of stress can cause issues for the digestive system as the brain cannot easily run digestion while under duress.

During fight or flight, the enteric nervous system, which controls digestion, can shut down the digestive process. Yet even mild stress can cause issues such as indigestion, heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. Even your immunity can decrease as the good bacteria in your digestive system tends to get flushed and your nutrient absorption decreases since things often move too quickly. Your metabolism will slow as well since blood is redirected to your brain causing a decrease in blood flow and oxygenation in your digestive system.

Our bodies are built to deal with certain levels of stress, and in fact this brain-gut link has aided in the survival of the human race, but the levels of stress that some people experience can have long-term effects. Experts agree that stress is a major factor in functional GI disorders such as IBS, where there is no clear physiological cause. And while stress does not cause IBDs such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, it can certainly worsen and trigger symptoms.

Avoiding stress altogether would allow your digestive system the opportunity to function properly without interruption, but a more realistic goal is to try and manage your stress levels.

  • Prioritize
  • Limit your responsibilities
  • Take time for yourself
  • Start a journal
  • Try relaxation therapy (yoga, meditation, hypnosis), talk therapy (with friends, family, or a therapist), or cognitive behavior therapy
  • Avoid overeating and eating junk food
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol


Stress can engulf us easily, and even the digestive side effects can be overwhelming creating even more stress and starting a vicious cycle. For those with GI concerns, controlling stress can mean controlling symptoms, so it is important to contact a gastroenterologist for advice.

Whether you are suffering from a gastrointestinal disease or chronic stress-related digestive issues, Dr. Cofrancesco and Dr. Quijano at GI North can help you diagnose, treat, and manage any of your digestive concerns. Located in Cumming, GA and serving the surrounding areas of Alpharetta, Roswell, Canton, and Suwanee, the professionals at GI North provide personal, specialized care with Dr. Quijano speaking fluent Spanish. Don’t put off talking to a professional, contact us and get some relief today!

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