Emotional Trauma and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Emotional Trauma and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The psychological and emotional traumas experienced over a lifetime — such as the death of a loved one, divorce, natural disaster, house fire or car accident, physical or mental abuse — may contribute to adult irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).


Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, found that childhood and adult traumas are more common among adults with IBS. Their study was presented at the American College of Gastroenterology’s 76th Annual Scientific meeting.


IBS is a chronic functional gastrointestinal disorder which for many sufferers is marked by abdominal discomfort, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea.


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Research suggests that IBS is caused by changes in the nerves and muscles that control sensation and motility of the bowel. IBS is 1.5 times more common in women than in men and is most commonly diagnosed in people under the age of 50.


Trauma may sensitize the brain and the gut, according to Dr. Saito-Loftus, who said that the results of this study indicate that patients with IBS experience or report traumas at a level higher than patients without IBS.


In the United States, it is estimated that 10-15 percent of the adult population suffers from IBS symptoms, yet only 5 to 7 percent of adults have been diagnosed with the disease. IBS is the most common disease diagnosed by gastroenterologists and one of the most common disorders seen by primary care physicians.


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“Patients and their families frequently wonder, ‘why me?’, ‘why did this [IBS] happen?'” said Dr. Saito Loftus. She said it’s important for patients’ and their healthcare providers’ to understand the potential link between prior stressful experiences and IBS. “This will help them understand why IBS happened to them, why stress continues to play a role in their IBS symptoms.”


She also urged patients and their healthcare providers not to “underplay” the role of stress in their symptoms. “Someone who thinks they have coped with their traumatic experiences adequately on their own and continues to have IBS symptoms should be encouraged to explore professional evaluation and treatment for traumatic life experiences.


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“A Case-Control Study of Childhood and Adult Trauma in the Development of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS),” Yuri Saito-Loftus, MD, presented at the American College of Gastroenterology’s (ACG) 76th Annual Scientific meeting in Washington, DC.


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