A Traumatic Life Could Lead to IBS

Psychological traumas linked to adult irritable bowel syndrome

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) If you're used to hearing bad news during a life full of traumatic events, here's another piece of upsetting information: You may be at higher risk for adult irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The death of a loved one, divorce, emotional and physical abuse, and other traumatic events are always stressful. Previous studies have linked stress to IBS. Now, researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, have found that psychological and emotional traumas experienced during childhood and adulthood may contribute to the development of IBS.

"Talk to your doctor about how to manage stress with IBS."

IBS is a disorder that is characterized by abdominal pain and cramping, and changes in bowel movements, among other symptoms. It is not yet clear what causes IBS, although research suggests that it's affected by changes in the nerves and muscles that control the bowel.

It's estimated that 10 – 15 percent of the American population has IBS symptoms, yet only 5 – 7 percent are diagnosed. IBS is more common in men than women, and is most frequently diagnosed in people under 50.

Previous studies linking stress and IBS had focused on sexual abuse. Statistics show that 50 percent of patients with IBS suffered from childhood abuse – twice as often as patients without IBS. This study looked at other forms of trauma, taking into consideration when the traumas occurred, and family trauma.

Among the 2623 study participants, most reported “general life trauma” more commonly than specific physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Traumatic events could be anything from family disputes, car accidents and natural disasters to abusive relationships. Compared to a control group, people in the study experience or report traumas at a higher level over a lifetime.

Dr. Yuri Saito-Loftus, a study author, suggested that trauma might make the brain and gut more sensitive. She said that it's important for patients and their doctors to understand the relationship between their stressful lifetimes and IBS symptoms. The study may help people understand why they have IBS, and why stress contributes to their IBS symptoms.

Dr. Saito-Loftus recommended that even if the patient believes he or she has adequately dealt with their trauma, doctors should encourage their patients to have psychological evaluation and treatment.

"A Case-Control Study of Childhood and Adult Trauma in the Development of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)" was presented at the American College of Gastroenterology's (ACG) 76th Annual Scientific meeting in late October 2011.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 1, 2011
Last Updated:
November 1, 2011