Emotional Abuse May Contribute to the Development of IBS

There’s a new study documenting some compelling findings that may help identify the culprit for a virtually unexplained illness. The study, conducted by the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada recruited 25 women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to investigate the link between women’s experience with emotional abuse and the presence of IBS. More than 30% of people with Fibromyalgia suffer from IBS; common symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive difficulties.

The study participants, ranging from 19 to 53 years old, filled out a standardized questionnaire designed to measure emotional abuse, defined as “being threatened verbally, being personally insulted or put down, being denied personal or economic independence, or being deliberately humiliated or degraded in public,” according to the report in the January/February issue of Psychosomatic Medicine. A comparison group of 25 women with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) also completed the questionnaire.

IBS is classified as a functional disorder due to the exclusion of known structural or biochemical irregularities accounting for the symptoms IBS patients’ experience. Functional disorders are more prevalent in women and have been correlated 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,” stated lead author, Alisha Ali, PhD. IBD, a disorder that includes ulcerative colitis and inflammation of the digestive tract, is not a functional disorder.

The questionnaire also screened for the presence of two psychosocial factors that play a possible role: self-silencing and self-blame. People who self-silence operate by censoring certain thoughts, feelings, and actions in an attempt to ward off confrontation and maintain a sense of security in their relationships. Continuous self-silencing often drives the individual to practice self-negation and develop a sense of unworthiness. People who practice self-blame often criticize themselves and hold themselves responsible for negative events.

“The self-blaming and self-silencing behaviors that tended to be associated with emotional abuse in this study probably cause stress increases,” according to Brenda B. Toner, PhD, study co-author. Stress is proven to be responsible for aggravating the symptoms of IBS and Fibromyalgia.

Results showed that the study subjects diagnosed with IBS scored substantially higher on measures of emotional abuse, as well as self-silencing and self-blame, than the comparison participants did. “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,” stated Ali.

Sources: Center for the Advancement of Health

Alternative Therapies for Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

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