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Stress linked to bowel pain

26th February 2007

British researchers have uncovered a link between perfectionism and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

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The University of Southampton team says perfectionists are more likely to develop IBS after an infection due to feelings of stress and anxiety.  The researchers questioned over 600 people with gastroenteritis about stress and their illness and found that those who pushed themselves or were particularly anxious about symptoms were more likely to develop IBS.

Around one in ten UK people (5% of the population) develop IBS after a having a bacterial gut infection, having previously been healthy.  Bacterial gut infections cause inflammation and ulceration in the bowel and can lead to severe vomiting and rectal bleeding. IBS is a functional disorder of the gut and bowels which causes abdominal pain, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, nausea and headaches.  IBS can affect anyone at any age, but often first develops in young adults and teenagers. Women are affected more often than men.

In the University of Southampton research, those who had symptoms of IBS were significantly more likely to have reported high levels of stress and anxiety and psychosomatic symptoms than those who did not develop the condition. They were also more likely to be ‘driven’, carrying on regardless until they were forced to rest, which the researchers found makes the initial bowel infection worse and longer-lasting and potentially leads to the development of IBS.


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