IBS and Panic Disorder

Why Is There an Overlap?

Woman looking worried
Photo: Anthony Lee/Getty Images

If you have the misfortune of suffering from both IBS and panic disorder at the same time, you may find some solace in the fact that you are not alone. Higher rates of IBS have been found in individuals who suffer from panic disorder as compared to healthy individuals or even individuals who suffer from other types of anxiety problems. Learning why this overlap occurs can be your first step toward managing the symptoms of both conditions.

What is IBS?

IBS is a digestive disorder in which individuals experience symptoms of chronic abdominal pain, along with a marked change in bowel habits resulting in episodes of constipation and/or diarrhea. With IBS, standard diagnostic testing does not reveal any visible disease process and so diagnosis is made based on a set of symptom criteria known as the Rome III criteria.

What is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder in which individuals experience recurring panic attacks. Panic attacks are episodes of intense fear accompanied by a variety of uncomfortable physical sensations, including heart palpitations, sweating, shaking, a feeling of shortness of breath, and dizziness. Digestive tract symptoms such as nausea or abdominal distress are also common.

For a complete list of the symptoms of a panic attack, see:

Overlap Between IBS and Panic Disorder

Research studies have estimated that approximately 25 to 40% of panic disorder patients also suffer from IBS.

Why the overlap? Researchers are looking into dysfunction within certain pathways of the central nervous system in order to increase understanding of the pathology behind both conditions. These pathways are those connected with the body's stress response. It appears that for both disorders, this fight-or-flight response is kicking in too frequently, resulting in uncomfortable physical symptoms.

For a more detailed description of how the nervous system handles stress, see:

Treatment of Panic Disorder and IBS

Although IBS and panic disorder are separate conditions, there is some similarity in terms of the treatment options for each, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and the use of antidepressants. Your doctor is in the best position to help you to design a treatment approach that most effectively targets your symptoms.


American Psychiatric Association. "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., text revision" 2000 Washington, D.C.

Gros, D.F., Antony, M.M., McCabe, R.E., & Swinson RP. "Frequency and severity of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome across the anxiety disorders and depression." Journal of Anxiety Disorders 2009 23:290-296.

Lydiard, R. "Increased Prevalence of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders in Panic Disorder: Clinical and Theoretical Implications" CNS Spectrums 2005 10:899-908.