[psychiatry-research] Irritable bowel syndrome linked with emotional abuse
- FOR RELEASE: 31 JANUARY 2000 AT 00:00 ET US
Center for the Advancement of Health
Irritable bowel syndrome linked with emotional abuse
A new study has investigated the association between women's experience of
emotional abuse and the digestive disorder known as irritable bowel syndrome
The symptoms of IBS, which include abdominal pain and bloating, don't appear
to result from known structural or biochemical abnormalities. As such, IBS is
known as a functional disorder. Functional disorders are more common among
women, and have been associated with a history of sexual abuse.
"Despite some evidence linking physical abuse and sexual abuse to IBS, few
studies have examined the association between emotional abuse and IBS," said
lead author, Alisha Ali, Ph.D.
The researchers from the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, enlisted
25 women with IBS to complete a standardized questionnaire measuring
emotional abuse, which involves psychological mistreatment and nonphysical
The researchers also tested for the presence of two psycho-social factors
that may play a role: self-silencing and self-blame.
Individuals who practice self-silencing attempt to maintain security in
relationships by silencing certain thoughts, feelings, and actions. Such
behavior can lead to complete denigration of beliefs and eventual
self-negation. Those who engage in self-blame tend to criticize themselves
and take on the burden of responsibility for negative events.
A comparison group of 25 women suffering from a different digestive disorder,
known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), also completed the questionnaire.
IBD, which consists mainly of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, is not
a functional disorder.
Study participants with IBS scored significantly higher on measures of
emotional abuse, as well as self-blame and self-silencing, than the women in
the comparison group, the researchers found. Their findings appear in the
January/February 2000 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.
"The self-blaming and self-silencing behaviors that tended to be associated
with emotional abuse in this study probably cause stress increases," said
Brenda B. Toner, Ph.D., study co-author. Stress is known to exacerbate IBS
"Future investigations should further examine this relationship to develop a
more comprehensive conceptualization of the interplay between trauma and
stress in the experience of irritable bowel syndrome," said Ali.