Anxiety linked to irritable bowel syndrome

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irritable bowel syndrome

Anxiety linked to irritable bowel syndrome. IBS is a common but very poorly understood bowel disorder.  Genes may go some way towards explaining why IBS is often linked to anxiety, say researchers.

They hope their discovery will stop IBS from being wrongly labelled as an emotional state or “all in the mind”.

More than 50,000 individuals with IBS were studied. Their DNA was compared with that of healthy people. The results are published in the Nature Genetic journal

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IBS is thought to affect about one in 10 people and can cause excruciating abdominal pain, bloating and bouts of constipation, general discomfort after eating, diarrhoea or both.

As there is no defining test, the diagnosis comes after ruling out other illnesses. Most times, it can take up to 10 years and many invasive tests for sufferers to finally be given a diagnosis.

Patients tend to seek medical advice between the ages of 20-40 and women are slightly more affected than men


Prof Miles Parkes, a consultant gastroenterologist at Cambridge’s Addenbrookes Hospital who led the gene research, says “IBS is still poorly understood, even by some doctors, and maybe incorrectly categorised as psychosomatic because of the overlap with anxiety and stress”.

He and his team say they “have identified at least six distinct genetic differences that might, at least partly, explain this link between the gut and the mind”.

Most of these genetic differences have roles in the brain, and possibly the nerves that supply the intestines, rather than the intestine itself


The same genetic make-up that puts people at increased risk of irritable bowel syndrome also increases the risk for common mood and anxiety disorders such as anxiety, depression, and neuroticism, as well as insomnia

“That doesn’t mean anxiety causes IBS symptoms or vice versa”, says Prof Parkes.

“Our study shows these conditions have shared genetic origins, with the affected genes possibly leading to physical changes in brain or nerve cells that in turn cause symptoms in the brain and symptoms in the gut.”

The discovery might ultimately help with developing better tests and treatments for IBS.


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