Digestive Health

07 November 2011

Past trauma may contribute to bowel disorder

Many people with irritable bowel syndrome have suffered stressful events over many years, study finds.


MONDAY, Oct. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Major psychological and emotional events experienced over a lifetime may contribute to the development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to a new study.

Researchers looked at 2,623 people and found that psychological and emotional traumas -- such as divorce, death of a loved one, house fire, car accident, and mental or physical abuse -- were more common among adults with IBS than those without the condition.

Dr. Yuri Saito-Loftus, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., was scheduled to present the findings Monday at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology in Washington, D.C.

"While stress has been linked to IBS, and childhood abuse has been reported to be present in up to 50 percent of patients with IBS, at a prevalence twice that of patients without IBS, most studies of abuse have focused on sexual abuse with sparse detail and also have not looked at other forms of psychological trauma," said Saito-Loftus in an ACG news release.

"This is the first study that looks at multiple forms of trauma, the timing of those traumas, and traumas in a family setting," he added.

It's believed that IBS -- which is characterized by abdominal discomfort, bloating, constipation and diarrhea -- is caused by changes in the nerves and muscles that control sensation and motility of the bowel. The condition affects an estimated 10 to 15 percent of adults in the United States -- more often women than men -- but only about half have been diagnosed with IBS, the researchers said.

Psychological and emotional trauma may sensitize the brain and gut, and it's important for doctors and patients to understand the potential link between prior stressful experiences and IBS, Saito-Loftus said in the release.

It's also important not to underplay the role of stress in IBS symptoms, Saito-Loftus said.

"Someone who thinks they have coped with their traumatic experiences adequately on their own and continues to have IBS symptoms should be encouraged to explore professional evaluation and treatment for traumatic life experiences," Saito-Loftus said.

Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about IBS.

(Copyright © 2011 HealthDay. All rights reserved.)

This article has not necessarily been edited by Health24.


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Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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