Gut 43:256-261 doi:10.1136/gut.43.2.256
  • Motility and visceral sensation

Level of chronic life stress predicts clinical outcome in irritable bowel syndrome


Background—Life stress contributes to symptom onset and exacerbation in the majority of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional dyspepsia (FD); research evidence is conflicting, however, as to the strength of these effects.

Aims—To test prospectively the relation of chronic life stress threat to subsequent symptom intensity over time.

Patients—One hundred and seventeen consecutive outpatients satisfying the modified Rome criteria for IBS (66% with one or more concurrent FD syndromes) participated.

Methods—The life stress and symptom intensity measures were determined from interview data collected independently at entry, and at six and 16 months; these measures assessed the potency of chronic life stress threat during the prior six months or more, and the severity and frequency of IBS and FD symptoms during the following two weeks.

Results—Chronic life stress threat was a powerful predictor of subsequent symptom intensity, explaining 97% of the variance on this measure over 16 months. No patient exposed to even one chronic highly threatening stressor improved clinically (by 50%) over the 16 months; all patients who improved did so in the absence of such a stressor.

Conclusion—The level of chronic life stress threat predicts the clinical outcome in most patients with IBS/FD.