Overly anxious and driven people prone to irritable bowel syndrome

February 25, 2007

Overly anxious and driven people are susceptible to irritable bowel syndrome, usually known as IBS, indicates research published ahead of print in the journal Gut.

The researchers studied 620 people who had confirmed gastroenteritis caused by a bacterial infection. None had had IBS before, or indeed any serious bowel disorder.

Each participant completed a detailed questionnaire when their infection was confirmed. This included questions about mood, perceived stress levels, perfectionism and illness beliefs and behaviours.

They were then monitored three and six months later to see whether they had developed the typical symptoms of IBS, which include diarrhoea and/or constipation, abdominal pain and bloating.

In all, 49 people had IBS at both time points. Women were more than twice as likely to have IBS as the men.

Those with IBS were significantly more likely to have reported high levels of stress and anxiety and psychosomatic symptoms than those who did not develop the condition

They were also significantly more likely to be "driven," carrying on regardless until they were forced to rest - a pattern of behaviour which only worsens and prolongs the condition, say the authors.

Although not likely to be depressed, those with IBS were more likely to take a pessimistic view of illness.

IBS affects between 10 and 15% of adults in industrialised countries, but its exact cause is unknown. "Gastroenteritis may trigger the symptoms, but cognitions, behaviour and emotions may help to prolong and maintain them over time," conclude the authors, who suggest that cognitive behavioural therapy may be an effective treatment.
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BMJ Specialty Journals

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