Check Up: Diarrhoea before taking exams

December 24, 2018

Dear Readers,

TJ says she is a sixth-form student attending a Kingston-based school, and she often gets diarrhoea before taking exams. She would like to know why this happens and how best to deal with it because it is a real problem.

Digestion issues tend to be one of the most common problems people experience when they are anxious, and diarrhoea is very commonly seen as a result of anxiety attacks and chronic stress. Anxiety has a strong effect on the intestinal wall muscles and diarrhoea can present as a sign that a person is suffering from anxiety. Anxiety activates the body's 'fight or flight' system. Stress causes adrenaline (one of the fight or flight hormones) to be released throughout the body. One result of this is an alteration in the function of our bowels. Water is not filtered properly and food is not processed well. This leads to diarrhoea and other bowel conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Anxiety issues can be so severe that they put a lot of stress and pressure on the physical body. In the heart, it causes palpitations, and in the bowel, it will cause diarrhoea!

Anti-diarrhoea treatment medications, such as Imodium, will work for many, but not all individuals and can be prescribed for use when onset of sudden diarrhoea is feared. A healthy lifestyle approach to life will also help, as this places emphasis on diet, exercise, and a healthy mind and body. Inherent in this is some emphasis on a calm, peaceful mood as a way of life. This may be a long-term approach, but it is very worthwhile in the long run.

To prevent anxiety-caused diarrhoea, you will need to prevent the anxiety. Anti-anxiety medication can be prescribed by your doctor for short-term use. In addition: exercise more. Exercise is a wonderful anti-anxiety strategy. It can take your mind off worrisome topics and also helps move food through your intestines at a better pace; keep your breathing slow and measured. Hyperventilation is often a part of panic attacks; listen to music, talk with friends, and keep distracted. Do not focus on the exams or on the stomach; and be well prepared for your exams. Do the work. Feel confident.

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