'It is deeply concerning': IBS found to directly link with mental health challenges
New research from the University of Missouri School of Medicine has found a link between irritable bowel syndrome and mental health challenges (Clinica Digestiva Navarro).

New research from the University of Missouri School of Medicine has found a link between irritable bowel syndrome and mental health challenges like anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts/attempts.

Though Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, a chronic disorder of the stomach and intestines, affects up to 15 percent of the population, more than a third of those patients have anxiety or depression. Now, doctors are looking into the function of the brain and the gut to understand what treatment will look like moving forward.

Cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, and gas are common signs stemming from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, that carry much more than discomfort. Now, mental health challenges that cause depression and anxiety have been found by the University of Missouri School of Medicine to have a direct link to IBS.

"When you look at the population, unfortunately with a lot of patients, sometimes those symptoms are not recognized, sometimes it's just a little bit of a tummy ache," said Dr. Yezaz Ghouri, Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine and Gastroenterology at Mizzou and a director of inflammatory bowel diseases. "You know, anxiety episodes, perhaps a lot of diarrhea, or have episodes where I can't have a normal bowel movement for several days, and they think it's just one of those things. But that could be your underlying IBS, so please try to recognize if you've had issues."

This new study took data from 4,000 hospitals nationwide and 1.2 million IBS hospitalizations over three years and found that 38 percent of patients have anxiety and 27 percent have depression. Both figures were double the rate of anxiety and depression found in those without IBS, and researchers discovered a higher rate of other psychiatric problems, like bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and suicide attempts. Ghouri said this stems from what's called the brain-gut axis.

"You don't control it. It's the things - like mental stress can give someone belly pain or what we call 'butterflies,' or like getting on stage. I have these people. So these are all manifestations of the excitability of these nerve cells in the gut. And it's interesting enough that apart from the brain is the gut, which has one of the highest amounts of nerve cells in the body," he said.

Ghouri adds that anger, stress, or depression manifests itself through nerve function and well. He says though he sees patients of all ages with IBS, he sees an increasing number of college students and young adults with significant gastroenterology issues.

"This is probably more of a public health issue that the government needs to invest more time in. I think it's unfortunate that we've not nationally invested in more resources that will help later for our patients, for the public in general to, you know, set up better counseling available for college students. There's so many mental health-related issues that are not fully addressed in today's world. And like I said, it will manifest in one form or the other; if not in the form of mental stress causing behavioral changes or alteration of social life, it will manifest in the form of bodies, symptoms in the form of joint pains, aches, and other sorts of issues."

Even if IBS has not been diagnosed, doctors ask that if you experience symptoms more than twice or experience those issues uncontrollably, to immediately talk to a primary care physician or gastroenterologist and specifically outline your physical and mental status.

"This could span beyond IBS and be something more serious, like underlying Crohn's disease or inflammatory bowel diseases in greater circumstances," Ghouri added. "Even cancer can present with similar symptoms. So it is deeply concerning."

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