Could irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and and mental health disorders such as anxiety be linked?

IBS affects around 1 in 10 people and causing symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and bowel dysfunction that can significantly affect people’s lives. Causes of IBS are not well understood but researchers have now identified several genes that provide clues into the origins of IBS.

In a large international study of more than 50,000 people with IBS, research teams from more than 40 institutions looked at genetic data from people who suffer with IBS and compared them to people without IBS (controls). The findings were repeated with de-identified data from people who have consented to research, again, people with IBS to those without.

The results showed that overall, heritability of IBS (how much your genes influence the likelihood of developing a particular condition) is quite low, indicating the importance of environmental factors such as diet, stress and patterns of behaviour that may also be shared in the family environment.

However, 6 genetic differences were more common in people with IBS than in controls. Researchers found most of the altered genes appear to have more clear-cut roles in the brain and possibly the nerves which supply the gut, rather than the gut itself.

The team also looked for overlap between susceptibility to IBS and other physical and mental health conditions.  They found that the same genetic make-up that puts people at increased risk of IBS also increases the risk for common mood and anxiety disorders such as anxiety, depression, and neuroticism, as well as insomnia. However,  this doesn’t mean that anxiety causes IBS symptoms or vice versa.

Read the full press release from November 2021.

Woman with stomach pain: This image was purchased from Abobe Stock with a lifetime usage
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