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The Intersection Between OCD and IBS

In addition to many of the physical ailments I have, of which IBS is one, I also have a couple of mental health conditions. Namely, when I was 14, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, otherwise known as "OCD."

My OCD mostly manifested as obsessive thoughts rather than compulsive behavior (though I do have a couple of relatively mild compulsions -- usually the need to repeatedly check a stove top before I leave my home or the locks of my door at night). Around the same time I had been diagnosed with OCD, I was having a lot of digestive issues -- heartburn, nausea and occasional bouts of diarrhea -- unexplained by my diet. These digestive upsets were short-term and mostly dissipated within a few months, as I got my OCD under control with medication and by participating in theater club.1


Yet in college, my digestive disorder rebounded and continued to get worse, until I was finally formally diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Recently, I found out that there is a relatively significant overlap between those who have OCD and those who have IBS. In some ways I am not surprised, it is well known that there is a connection between those who have anxiety and depression and IBS.

Specifically related to OCD: a peer review study published in 2006 established a potential connection with it and IBS. In particular, in a survey of a little over 100 patients with OCD, 37 of them -- 35.1% of the overall sample -- met the criteria for IBS. Of these, 53.8% had IBS with both diarrhea and constipation, 30.8% had IBS-D, and 15.4% had IBS-C.2 The study didn't elaborate or pontificate on what might account for this co-morbidity though.

OCD treatment benefits IBS

In another study from 2016, a 55-year-old female patient with OCD was offered deep brain stimulation as a treatment for it. Interestingly, while her OCD symptoms improved somewhat, the more immediate and vast improvement occurred regarding her IBS symptoms, which was an unexpected benefit of the treatment.

This study posited that: "...it seems likely that the effects on IBS symptoms and OCD symptoms are not completely independent. Imaging studies suggest an involvement of cortico-basal ganglia-thalamocortical loops in the pathophysiology of both OCD....and presumably the modulation of neuronal activity in this circuit has resulted in symptom improvement of both disorders in the presented case."3 In other words, overlapping parts of the brain seem to have impacts on both OCD and IBS, potentially explaining their connection with each other and also why treatment for OCD can have benefits for IBS. The study also backed up the role the central nervous system plays in IBS, as well as the possibility of brain stimulation as a treatment that might offer relief of IBS.

Do you have OCD as well as IBS? If so, has any treatments for your OCD resulted in improvements to your IBS? Please answer in the comments below!

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