New research from the University of Missouri School of Medicine has established a link between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. The research highlights the need for health professionals to assess and treat psychiatric comorbidities in patients with IBS to improve their overall health and quality of life.
IBS is a chronic stomach and intestinal disorder that affects up to 15 percent of the population. Causes cramps, stomach ache, bloating, gas and diarrhea. This study looked at more than 1.2 million hospitalizations of IBS patients from 4,000 US hospitals over a three-year period and found that more than 38 percent had anxiety and more than 27 percent had depression. Both figures were double the anxiety and depression rates found in those without IBS. The prevalence of psychiatric problems including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, suicidal attempts/ideas, and eating disorders was significantly higher in the IBS patient population compared to the general adult population.
A possible explanation is the so-called brain-gut axis. We have long suspected that brain-gut axis dysfunction is bidirectional, such that IBS symptoms influence anxiety and depression, and in turn, psychiatric factors cause IBS symptoms. Medical professionals must address both ends of the axis.”
Zahid Ijaz Tarar, MD, principal investigator, assistant professor of clinical medicine
Untreated psychiatric disorders among IBS patients also burden healthcare systems through increased frequency of hospital admissions and longer stays. Chronic diseases such as IBS are also known to be associated with stress, work impairment and associated economic burdens for patients and their families.
“I often tell my patients who have IBS that if they have any kind of psychological stress, it will express itself in one form or another,” said senior author Yezaz Ghouri, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine and gastroenterology. “The mesenteric membrane that holds the intestines together has one of the largest collections of nerve cells in the body. When those nerves start firing impulses, it can lead to a state of irritation in and around the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in IBS symptoms. The resulting decline in the patient’s quality of life can lead to poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking. Early assessment and treatment of IBS and associated psychiatric conditions is essential.”
The study, “Burden of anxiety and depression among hospitalized patients with irritable bowel syndrome: a nationwide analysis,” was recently published in Irish Journal of Medical Sciences. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest related to the study.
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