Nausea sometimes a red flag for anxiety and depression

March 06, 2002

People who experience nausea may be suffering from anxiety or depression, possible causes that should be investigated before aggressive treatments are begun for gastrointestinal disorders, according to a new study.

"This may lead to avoidance of long-term use of potentially harmful medications for nausea, unnecessary medical investigation and probably a better quality of life for the patients," says lead author Tone Tangen Haug, M.D., Ph.D., of Haukeland University Hospital in Norway.

Haug and colleagues in the department of psychiatry conducted what is perhaps the largest study of the prevalence of nausea ever undertaken. The study is published in the March/April issue of the journal General Hospital Psychiatry.

Overall, 48 percent of 62,000 people in Norway who completed surveys indicated they had suffered from one or several gastrointestinal complaints, including nausea, heartburn, diarrhea and constipation, during a one-year period. Nearly 13 percent had experienced nausea during the year.

"In our study population, the prevalence of anxiety and depression was significantly higher for subjects with nausea, compared to subjects without these complaints," Haug says.

Based on a psychiatric scale that assessed their symptoms, 41 percent of those who had major complaints of nausea were found to have an anxiety disorder, while 24 percent were clinically depressed.

Nausea was the strongest risk factor for anxiety. Those who reported symptoms of nausea were more than three times as likely to also have an anxiety disorder, and nearly one-and-a-half times more likely to suffer from depression.

Study participants' age, lifestyle and other health factors were not as strongly linked to nausea as were anxiety and depression.

Because many people with symptoms of nausea seek care from primary care practices, these physicians should not overlook depression and anxiety as potential diagnoses, Haug says.

In addition, because the source of gastrointestinal complaints often cannot be found, it is important to investigate whether psychiatric disorders are also present, she says.
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General Hospital Psychiatry is a peer-reviewed research journal published bimonthly by Elsevier Science. For information about the journal, contact Don R. Lipsitt, M.D., at (617) 499-5008.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health http://www.cfah.org. For more research news and information, go to our special section devoted to health and behavior in the "Peer-Reviewed Journals" area of Eurekalert!, http://www.eurekalert.org/restricted/reporters/journals/cfah/. For information about the Center, call Ira Allen, iallen@cfah.org (202) 387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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