Gastrointestinal infection, irritable bowel syndrome complications increase with anxiety

Gastrointestinal infection, irritable bowel syndromeGastrointestinal infection and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) complications increase with anxiety. Researchers have conducted their study in an “accidental experiment” when a large water contamination occurred in a few regions of Belgium, leading to over 18,000 people developing gastroenteritis. This allowed the researchers to study how anxiety plays a role in complications associated with gastrointestinal infections.

Scientist Adrian Liston said, “The water contamination in Schelle and Hemiksem was an ‘accidental experiment’ on a scale rarely possible in medical research. By following the patients from the initial contamination to a year after the outbreak, we were able to find out what factors altered the risk of long-term complications.”


The scientists found that individuals with higher depression and anxiety prior to the water contamination accident developed far more severe type of gastroenteritis, compared to individuals without depression or anxiety. The same individuals were at a higher risk of developing long-term complications related to irritable bowel syndrome.

Fellow researcher, Guy Boeckxstaens added, “Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition of chronic abdominal pain and altered bowel movements. This is a common condition with large socio-economic costs, yet there is so much that still remains to be discovered about the causes. Our investigation found that that anxiety or depression alters the immune response towards a gastrointestinal infection, which can result in more severe symptoms and the development of chronic irritable bowel syndrome.”

Liston concluded, “These results once again emphasize the importance of mental health care and social support services. We need to understand that health, society, and economics are not independent, and ignoring depression and anxiety results in higher long-term medical costs.”

IBS survey in America highlights physical, social, and emotional impact

Irritable bowel syndrome doesn’t just affect a person’s digestion and abdomen. It has been found to have a large social and emotional impact as well. In a large survey conducted by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), the results revealed how exactly living with IBS impacts people’s lives physically, socially, and emotionally.

The survey was titled “IBS in America” and it is the most comprehensive survey conducted. Some of the key findings of the survey are as follows:

Majority of patients are talking to friends and family and not doctors about their condition, and many of these individuals follow the advice of non-healthcare professionals.

Daily symptoms like abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea not only affect a person’s life physically, but also socially and emotionally. Many respondents report they would give up coffee, their cell phone, and even sex just to experience one month of relief from symptoms.

Doctor-patient conversations need to improve, as many respondents have difficulty expressing their concerns to their doctor.


President of AGA Michael Camilleri said, “IBS is an important healthcare priority – it is the seventh most common diagnosis made by all physicians and the most common diagnosis made by gastroenterologists. People who suffer from abdominal pain and bowel symptoms are not alone. Talking about bowel function habits is never easy, but it is concerning to see how long the respondents in this survey often waited to talk to a doctor. There may not be a cure for IBS, but there are treatments. Patients need to see a doctor, and doctors need to be proactive in bringing up this topic in conversation with the patient.”

Tips that the AGA has compiled based on the findings include:

  • Speak up early on, don’t suffer in silence, and avoid health-related advice from non-healthcare professional.
  • Speak in detail and explain frequency of symptoms, when they occur, etc.
  • Talk to your doctor often, especially if you notice changes.

By following these tips, treatment and testing can be changed or done to take a better care of IBS and avoid complications.

Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.


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