Digestive Health

Updated 05 August 2015

Inflammatory bowel disease ups risk for anxiety disorder

Researchers found that patients with IBS were two times more likely to have had generalised anxiety disorder at some point in their lives than adults without Crohn's or colitis.


People with inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, have an increased risk for an anxiety disorder, especially women, a new study suggests.

Substantial chronic physical problems

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of disorders that cause chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.

"Patients with IBD face substantial chronic physical problems associated with the disease," lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, a professor from the University of Toronto, said in a university news release. "The additional burden of anxiety disorders makes life much more challenging so this 'double jeopardy' must be addressed."

Read: Generalised anxiety disorder

The study authors looked at 269 Canadian adults who had been diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease. The researchers found that these patients were two times more likely to have had generalised anxiety disorder at some point in their lives than adults without Crohn's or colitis.

And for women, the risk was four times greater than for men, the investigators found.

In addition, people with an inflammatory bowel disease and a history of childhood sexual abuse had a six-fold increased risk of an anxiety disorder. And those with Crohn's or colitis who reported having moderate or severe chronic pain were twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder as those with mild or no pain, the study revealed.

Link between physical and mental health

Although this study found an association between people with an inflammatory bowel disease and the likelihood of an anxiety disorder, it wasn't designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship between these conditions.

Findings were published online recently in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.

"The study draws attention to the need for routine screening and targeted interventions for anxiety disorders. Particularly among the most vulnerable patients with IBD: women, individuals who are in chronic pain, and those with a history of childhood sexual abuse," study co-author and adjunct lecturer Joanne Sulman, from the University of Toronto, said in the news release.

Read: Signs of sexual abuse

The study also highlights the link between physical and mental health, according to Patrick McGowan, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Toronto. He was not directly involved in the study.

"We sometimes think of the two as if they are entirely separate entities but the reality is they are intimately linked. Both involve genuine physical changes in the body and affect each other," McGowan said in the news release.

Read more:

Diagnosing IBS

Social phobia/Social Anxiety Disorder

Focus on child sexual abuse

Image: IBS from Shutterstock

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Digestive Health Expert

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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