Personality may influence irritable bowel syndrome

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who experience high levels of stress and anxiety appear to be more likely to develop irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) following a severe gastric infection, UK and New Zealand researchers report

A variety of studies have suggested that the cause of IBD has psychological and behavioral components, Dr. Rona Moss-Morris of the University of Southampton and Dr. Meagan J. Spence of the University of Auckland point out in the medical journal Gut.

“This study shows that various psychological factors, particularly stress, anxiety and a tendency to push oneself to keep going when ill and then collapse in response, interact with the physical illness in causing IBS,” Moss-Morris told Reuters Health.

In their study, the researchers looked at 620 patients who tested positive for stomach inflammation from a bout of infection with a bug called Campylobacter. None of the participants had previously suffered from IBS or serious bowel conditions.

The subjects completed a questionnaire, covering aspects of personality and their behavior at the time of the initial infection. They were then checked 3 and 6 months later to see if they had developed IBS. The researcher found that 49 of the patients had the condition at both follow-up points.

Depression and perfectionism were not significantly associated with the onset of IBS. However, a variety of other factors were.

These included significantly higher levels of perceived stress and anxiety. IBS patients were also significantly less likely to rest in the face of their illness, and exhibited “all-or-nothing” behavior by continuing their activities despite their symptoms until they were forced to stop.

These patients were prone to view illness in a particularly pessimistic fashion. Being female was also an important risk factor.

The UK author of an accompanying editorial, Dr. Francis Creed of the University of Manchester, told Reuters Health that the study “shows more clearly than most the psychological factors that are associated with the development of IBS.”

SOURCE: Gut, August 2007.