What Causes IBS Neurological Symptoms?

Ciarán & Katie

Published on

May 13, 2024

Updated on

May 13, 2024

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Robert Stevens

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common of all functional gastrointestinal disorders, affecting 5-10% of the world’s population.1 IBS is considered a functional disorder as its symptoms are not explained by pathology or test findings. IBS research found that bloating and distention usually coincide with the recurring stomach pain and disturbed bowel habits that characterize IBS.2 With persistent symptoms t, emotional and mental health can become negatively impacted, often requiring assistance from a healthcare provider. 

Although the precise etiology of irritable bowel syndrome is still unknown, scientific evidence has identified several potential risk factors that may facilitate the onset of this chronic illness.3 If you struggle with IBS, your digestive system may be impacted by a variety of anomalies not apparent on conventional tests, which may cause gastroenteritis and gastrointestinal symptoms that are frequently connected to this illness. The emergence of IBS symptoms may also be influenced by:

  • Irregularities in gut motility
  • Poor immune system performance
  • Excessive numbers of gut bacteria, viruses, and fungi

The interpretation of uncomfortable signals coming from the gut by the central nervous system may also play a role in irritable bowel syndrome. A study titled “Decreased neuroplasticity may play a role in irritable bowel syndrome: implication from the comorbidity of depression and irritable bowel syndrome” in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility suggests that the central nervous system may become hypersensitive to signals from the gut in those with IBS, leading to changes in pain perception and discomfort.5 Further research is needed to fully understand the mechanism underlying this interaction between the nervous system and the gut, also known as brain-gut interactions. However, there are approaches that can help overcome these symptoms, which we'll discuss further as we overview irritable bowel syndrome.

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome patients can experience different symptoms that vary from person to person. Therefore, building greater awareness around your symptoms can help guide your treatment, helping you return to a thriving state of everyday living. Some of the major symptoms of IBS include: 

Abdominal Pain Or Discomfort

IBS can frequently cause abdominal pain or discomfort, which can negatively affect your quality of life. The pain or discomfort can be minor to severe and can occur anywhere in the abdomen. It has been commonly described as a cramping sensation6 and could be a sign of chronic abdominal pain. 

Bloating And A Distended Abdomen

Irritable bowel syndrome can present with bloating and abdominal distention, which can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. These symptoms can be brought on by certain foods, such as those high in fat or fiber. In addition, certain eating patterns, like overeating, can cause symptoms.7 Irregular intestinal muscle contractions can affect the flow of gas and stool, causing a buildup in the large intestine and small intestine. In addition, altered gut motility may contribute to the development of bloating and distention within the digestive tract.

Changes In Bowel Habits

Changes in bowel movement and habits, such as constipation, diarrhea, or alternating episodes of both, are defining signs of irritable bowel syndrome and can have a major negative effect on productivity and social abilities. A study entitled “Impairment in work productivity and health-related quality of life in patients with IBS” in the American Journal of Managed Care discussed how people with IBS had a 21% decrease in work productivity. .8 To properly manage bowel symptoms, it's crucial to address your stress response, which can make bowel patterns worse if not addressed and can lead to inflammatory bowel disease.

Excessive Gas

People with  IBS may frequently experience excessive gas, which can become painful and even embarrassing when out in public. Although some gas can occur naturally after digestion, excessive gas may indicate abnormal digestion. 

How Irritable Bowel Syndrome is Treated

Irritable bowel syndrome can be difficult to treat since there is currently no specific treatment protocol for symptom management.9 The gut-brain axis plays a significant role in the potential differences in these outcomes. Research has found that this axis is bi-directional, meaning both the brain and gut can communicate with one another through the neurotransmitters running along the gastrointestinal tract called the enteric nervous system.10 Symptoms of IBS can affect the balance of this gut-brain axis, creating unpleasant sensations during digestion, which can begin to stress the brain and alter the brain's ability to make new neural connections, also known as neuroplasticity. At re-origin, we believe it can be beneficial to manage the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome with non-pharmacological therapies that focus on restoring balance to this gut-brain axis. At re-origin, our limbic system brain retraining program is a neuroplasticity-based intervention that addresses the underlying cause of IBS, providing a tailored and promising method for potentially eliminating IBS symptoms and enhancing your everyday life.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diet

Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms can arise from a variety of factors, including dietary variables. Dietary changes are a safe and affordable therapy option but not a one-size-fits-all cure.11 Research suggests that there are no specific strategies that are effective for everyone due to the heterogeneity of the condition and the individual differences in what seems to trigger symptoms. There is hope with research carried out in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics: the Official Journal of the British Dietetic Association, indicating that the low FODMAP diet, which involves lowering fermentable carbohydrates that aggravate symptoms, is one of the most popular dietary therapies for irritable bowel syndrome.12 According to other studies, this diet may help some IBS sufferers with symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, and stomach pain.13 However, this diet may become difficult to follow over the long term because of its dietary constraints. 

The Mediterranean diet is a dietary strategy that has anti-inflammatory properties and may reduce symptoms. However, research is still required to establish the ideal food options for those who are struggling, as improvement in symptoms will vary per person.14

Medications for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

There are many different types of medications you can choose from, but each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Antispasmodics can reduce your intestinal spasms to treat abdominal cramping and pain; however, they can also have side effects like dry mouth and constipation.2 One research paper entitled “Irritable bowel syndrome in the United States: prevalence, symptom patterns, and impact” has found that laxatives can treat constipation, but they also have negative gastrointestinal effects, including diarrhea.15 Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are antidepressants that effectively reduce the intensity of symptoms; however, they can also have undesirable side effects such as dry mouth, sleepiness, and sexual dysfunction.16 Probiotics (in particular, strains like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus) may help restore the balance of gut bacteria and improve gut motility and function. They have also been studied as potential treatment options.17 From what the research indicates on probiotics, it appears that more clinical trials are required to determine their ideal strains and dosages.

Neuroplasticity for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change and reorganize itself in response to novel experiences or stimuli, has gained popularity as a method of treating IBS symptoms. At re-origin, our neuroplasticity-based program targets the limbic system, the brain's center for processing emotions, and aims to provide you with a tailored brain retraining regimen designed to restore and regulate your limbic system, which in turn can help to balance the gut-brain axis. Doing so can offer long-term benefits to overcome everyday symptoms. With a focus on improving your emotional control and re-balancing the limbic system, you too, can overcome symptoms of abdominal discomfort, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. By focusing on a brain retraining approach, adjustments to symptoms can help you return to a better quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions About IBS Neurological Symptoms 

How is your mood and mental health when you have irritable bowel syndrome?

Abdominal pain, IBS with bloating, IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D), IBS with constipation (IBS-C), and other symptoms can have a severe impact on your mood and mental health, leading to sadness, anxiety, and a lower quality of life. Your general well-being can then be impacted, leading to chronic discomfort, social anxiety, and shame.

What is the main cause of irritable bowel syndrome?

Research has found that a number of factors, including altered gastrointestinal motility, visceral hypersensitivity, an overgrowth of inflammation, and changes in the gut flora, may all contribute to irritable bowel syndrome, yet the specific etiology is still unknown.18 Stress can cause lifestyle changes impacting the gut-brain axis, and other psychological conditions can also exacerbate symptoms. 

What foods trigger IBS Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Depending on the person, different foods may cause IBS; however, some common trigger foods include fatty foods, gluten, spicy foods, coffee, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners.19 Furthermore, certain people with a family history of lactose intolerance may  be hypersensitive to certain kinds of carbohydrates. 

How do you calm symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome?

There are several ways to calm symptoms, including dietary supplements with peppermint oil, stress reduction techniques, and medication. Additionally, an emerging treatment approach includes neuroplasticity-based brain retraining programs like the one at re-origin. By focusing on restoring a regulated limbic system, this program can help balance the gut-brain axis and improve how you regulate your emotions, leading to a reduction in stress and symptoms of IBS. 

Is neuroplasticity for IBS?

Yes, neuroplasticity can be used to manage the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to adapt and change to create new and stronger connections between neurons. Its principles can also be used to rewire the brain by following brain training tasks and activities that help to alleviate symptoms, such as meditation techniques, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization techniques.21


Dealing with the neurological symptoms of IBS can be incredibly challenging, but it is important to understand that you are not alone and there are effective treatment options available. The repeated experience of symptoms can cause the limbic system to maladapt and perpetuate a cycle of symptoms. However, with quick and effective methods through our neuroplasticity training program, it is possible to achieve a full recovery from IBS, enabling you to get back to the life you deserve to be living. Remember, there is hope if you struggle with IBS, and a brighter, healthier future is possible!


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Ciarán & Katie