Does Stress Cause Diarrhea or Constipation?

  • Medical Author:
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: Dennis Lee, MD
    Dennis Lee, MD

    Dennis Lee, MD

    Dr. Lee was born in Shanghai, China, and received his college and medical training in the United States. He is fluent in English and three Chinese dialects. He graduated with chemistry departmental honors from Harvey Mudd College. He was appointed president of AOA society at UCLA School of Medicine. He underwent internal medicine residency and gastroenterology fellowship training at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

Ask the experts

Can stress cause diarrhea or constipation?

Doctor's response

Stress is a well-known cause of diarrhea but usually in the acute situation. For example, before a final examination a student may have the urge to have a bowel movement, and the bowel movement may be looser than usual. Chronic diarrhea is less likely to be caused by stress. The relationship between stress and constipation has not been studied much. Since stress causes most things to be worse, it is possible that it also exacerbates constipation or at least the perception of it. The major causes of troublesome constipation relate to muscular abnormalities of the colon and rectum, and these are not stress-related to the best of our knowledge.

Medically reviewed by Robert Bargar, MD; Board Certification in Public Health & General Preventive Medicine


"Acute stress disorder in adults: Epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, course, and diagnosis"

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Reviewed on 9/19/2017