Anxiety and depression cause irritable bowel syndrome

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People who are anxious or depressed are at greater risk of gastrointestinal infections and chronic irritable bowel syndrome, according to a study by researchers from the VIB in cooperation with KULeuven and UZ Leuven. The results were recently published in the medical journal Gut.

The researchers followed a large group of patients who were victims of gastroenteritis during a contamination of drinking water in December 2010 in Schelle and Hemiksem, from the initial infection to a year after. They found that individuals who were anxious or depressed prior to the incident generally developed severe gastrointestinal symptoms. Moreover, one year after the outbreak, this group showed an increased risk of developing chronically irritable bowel syndrome accompanied by periodic abdominal cramps, diarrhea or constipation.

According to Guy Boeckx (UZ Leuven), this study finally sheds light on the cause of irritable bowel syndrome, a common condition with a major socio-economic impact. “Our research indicates that anxiety or depression affects the immune system and thus makes people more susceptible to gastrointestinal infections. This can in turn lead to more severe symptoms and, ultimately to chronically irritable bowel syndrome,” said Boeckx.