Double Jeopardy: IBD and Anxiety

If you suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – and you are a woman – you are particularly vulnerable to anxiety disorders.

That's one of the main takeaways from research out of the University of Toronto that focused upon the connection between IBD and anxiety.

“Patients with IBD face substantial chronic physical problems associated with the disease,” said lead-author Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson. “The additional burden of anxiety disorders makes life much more challenging so this ‘double jeopardy’ must be addressed.”

The research showed that men are only twice as likely to have generalized anxiety disorder as someone who does not have IBD.

Science has known about the link between IBD and depression for a while, but anxiety disorders are more common than depressive disorders. An estimated 15 percent of Americans experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Excessive fearfulness and worry about a number of everyday problems are the hallmarks of generalized anxiety disorder.

The researchers drew their data from a representative sample of more than 22,000 people. A total of 269 respondents reported that they had been diagnosed by a health professional with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis, both prime sources of IBD.

“The study draws attention to the need for routine screening and targeted interventions for anxiety disorders,” said co-author Joanne Sulman. “Particularly among the most vulnerable patients with IBD: women, individuals who are in chronic pain and those with a history of childhood sexual abuse.”

Study co-author Rusan Lateef drew attention to two other factors that were associated with anxiety disorders among those with IBD.

“Of particular interest was the six-fold odds of anxiety disorders we found among those with IBD who had a history of childhood sexual abuse. Not surprisingly, we also found that those who reported moderate or severe chronic pain had twice the odds of anxiety disorders in comparison to those with only mild or no chronic pain,” Lateef wrote.

One reason this study was particularly interesting is the line it draws connecting mental and physical health. It has become increasingly clear to scientists that both involve genuine physical changes in the body and affect each other.


The research was was published in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.