Women with IBS: Study to focus on the psychological impact

A study of more than 1,000 women suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) will reveal how psychological factors improve or worsen their condition.

Researchers at the School of Psychology at NUI Galway launched an appeal for the female participants yesterday.

Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease are similar. They include feeling bloated, nauseous, having diarrhoea, an urgency to go to the bathroom and pain.

Up to one in five people in Ireland suffer from irritable bowel syndrome.

However, another 20,000 people suffer from one of the less common inflammatory bowel diseases, such as colitis or Crohn’s disease.

Dr Jonathan Egan, a lecturer in clinical psychology at NUI Galway, who is leading the study, said stress was a major factor.

“Stress is known to affect the severity and possibly the direction of these diseases, and things related to stress are an important focus of research attempting to improve future treatments for these conditions,” he said.

“We are only starting to understand how the brain-gut axis operates, and it seems that it is important for people to ‘connect with their gut reaction’ in order to be able to understand their emotions.”

Dr Egan said they wanted to see what psychological factors improved or worsened experience of the conditions.

“Already an initial analysis of the first hundred or so participants has indicated a high level of people feeling misunderstood by others. The symptoms can also affect a person’s sexual expression.”

Many had an ongoing worry about planning their day so that they could access adequate toilet facilities. High levels of fatigue, poor ability to concentrate and elevated levels of stress, anxiety and mood being affected were also common.

Prospective participants can expect to answer questions related to physical symptoms they experience, and how irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease affects their quality of life, physically, emotionally and socially. They will also be asked about their relationships with certain people in their lives and whether they experience common symptoms of stress, depression or anxiety.

Working with Dr Egan is Isha Doyle, who is completing a master of sciences degree course in health psychology at the university. Ms Doyle said the study would help identify stress management and psychological therapies that sufferers should focus on to improve the success of treatments.

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