There's a great new study in the August issue of Gut (the winner in my "favorite medical journal title" competition). It shows how anxiety, stress and other psychological factors can contribute to IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). But it's vital not to misread the findings to mean that this nasty bowel disorder is "all in your head"--or that people dealing with anxiety are destined to get IBS. Let's take a look at the study.
Bottom line first
After developing the viral infection gastroenteritis (aka "stomach flu"), people who had higher levels of anxiety and stress were more likely to develop IBS and still have it 3 to 6 months after the original infection. Researchers conclude that psychological factors contribute to IBS.
This study in 50 words or less
Researchers looked at 620 people with no history of bowel conditions and followed them after they got gastroenteritis. In the group that developed IBS they found high levels of stress and anxiety; a pessimistic view of disease; and a tendency to refuse rest until symptoms forced it.
Yes, but. . .
Recall that all subjects had "stomach flu"--psychological factors alone did not cause the syndrome.
Neither depression nor perfectionism were linked to develpment of IBS.
The study was fairly small and brief; psychological assessments were derived from questionnaires the subjects completed themselves.
So what are you going to do about it?
If you have IBS: The American Academy of Family Physicians has some helpful information about how stress management can help control symptoms.
If you have anxiety and stress, this study suggests that after a bout of stomach flu you may be more susceptible to symptoms of IBS. Talk to your medical professional if you get stomach flu, and be alert to IBS symptoms.