An unusual connection has recently been discovered between Inflammatory bowel disease and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It appears that many sufferers develop a specific form of PTSD as a direct result of living with their condition.
What’s more, researchers believe that the two issues exacerbate one another, creating a classic circle that can be detrimental to your health.
A team researchers, working for the Swiss Inflammatory Bowel Disease Cohort Study Group, carefully tracked nearly 600 patients diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease (one of the most prevalent and destructive forms of IBD) to monitor its affect on their mental stress levels and overall psychological health .
Over the course of 18 months, the mental well-being of each of the subjects being followed was measured using a standardized 17-point scoring system designed to gauge reductions in quality of life due to fear or suffering in order to determine whether or not they had developed clinical PTSD. This is essentially the same test that would be administered to a crisis survivor or shellshocked veteran.
Nearly 20 percent of the participants monitored scored sufficiently high during testing to qualify for the PTSD diagnosis. A significantly higher number than most experts would have suspected.
The Connection Between Stress and Bowel Disease
While less talked about than cancer and other painful, potentially deadly health conditions, inflammatory bowel disease can lead to an equally long and torturous existence. In some extreme cases of IBD, repeated surgery and other invasive treatments are sometimes required to sustain minimal patient health.
The intense and unpredictable episodes of pain associated with it can also create a state of permanent stress in patients, which in turn increases the likeliness of suffering additional flare-ups. Researchers believe that it is this cyclical build-up which ultimately leads to the development of post traumatic stress disorder in so many patients.
The real world effects of PTSD can range from subtle psychological disturbances, such as thought fixation and recurrent nightmares to excessive irritability, insomnia, and other more obvious personality changes.
Some sufferers may even develop deep-rooted coping mechanisms to mentally protect themselves from living with bowel disease. In these cases, patients seem to often exhibit extreme avoidance and denial tactics which they may use to forcibly block out any personal knowledge of their condition.
The Overall Benefits of Addressing PTSD in IBD Patients
Post traumatic stress disorder is itself still not fully understood. As with many anxiety centered disorders, treatment, or more accurately management, is often highly individualized. This has led health care providers to experiment with a wide range of therapies and medications in its treatment.
While addressing stress in IBD patients may not do much to alleviate the source of their actual suffering, it has great potential for improving their total quality of life. In many cases, the reduction in stress is also likely to reduce the number and severity of flare ups patients have to endure.
This factor alone has led the Swiss experts behind the investigation to recommend regular psychological check-ups and guided therapy as standard management protocols for patients with IBD. At the very least, they recommend that these tools be readily utilized in patients who exhibit the warning signs of stress and PTSD.
-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DABFM
- Dr. Christian Braegger. Swiss inflammatory bowel disease cohort study (SIBDCS). Universität Zürich. 2009 January – 2014 March.
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