Media Releases

Generalized anxiety disorders twice as likely in those with inflammatory bowel disease

July 29, 2015

Study finds generalized anxiety disorder is much more common among individuals with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis

TORONTO, ON – Peo­ple who have inflam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease (IBD), such as Crohn’s dis­ease or ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis, have twice the odds of hav­ing a gen­er­al­ized anx­i­ety dis­or­der at some point in their lives when com­pared to peers with­out IBD, accord­ing to a new study pub­lished by Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to researchers.

“Patients with IBD face sub­stan­tial chron­ic phys­i­cal prob­lems asso­ci­at­ed with the dis­ease,” said lead-author Pro­fes­sor Esme Fuller-Thom­son, San­dra Rot­man Endowed Chair at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work. “The addi­tion­al bur­den of anx­i­ety dis­or­ders makes life much more chal­leng­ing so this ‘dou­ble jeop­ardy’ must be addressed.”

Inves­ti­ga­tors report­ed that female IBD suf­fer­ers were par­tic­u­lar­ly vul­ner­a­ble to anx­i­ety dis­or­ders. Women with IBD had four times the odds of anx­i­ety when com­pared to men with IBD, said Fuller-Thom­son.

Data were drawn from a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of more than 22,000 Cana­di­ans, the 2012 Cana­di­an Com­mu­ni­ty Health Study: Men­tal Health. A total of 269 respon­dents report­ed that they had been diag­nosed by a health pro­fes­sion­al with Crohn’s dis­ease or ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis.

“The study draws atten­tion to the need for rou­tine screen­ing and tar­get­ed inter­ven­tions for anx­i­ety dis­or­ders,” said co-author and adjunct lec­tur­er 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.”

Co-author and for­mer grad­u­ate stu­dent, Rusan Lateef, not­ed 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.”

Patrick McGowan, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of bio­log­i­cal sci­ences at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Scar­bor­ough, says one of the rea­sons this study is so sig­nif­i­cant is because it under­lines the impor­tant link between phys­i­cal and men­tal health.

“We some­times think of the two as if they are entire­ly sep­a­rate enti­ties but the real­i­ty is they are inti­mate­ly linked,” said McGowan. “Both involve gen­uine phys­i­cal changes in the body and affect each oth­er.” McGowan was not direct­ly involved with the study.

McGowan notes that although the study was not designed to deter­mine the bio­log­i­cal mech­a­nisms of anx­i­ety dis­or­ders or inflam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­eases, adverse life expe­ri­ences and chron­ic anx­i­ety can hijack the stress response sys­tem, poten­tial­ly affect­ing a whole host of bod­i­ly process­es, includ­ing chron­ic inflam­ma­tion.

“This study asks about the asso­ci­a­tion between these process­es, so we don’t know cause-and-effect, but treat­ment options are like­ly to expand if the options are broad­er than phys­i­cal or men­tal health alone.”

The study was pub­lished online this week in the jour­nal Inflam­ma­to­ry Bow­el Dis­eases.

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For more infor­ma­tion con­tact:

Michael Kennedy
Media Rela­tions
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Office: 416–946-5025

Prof. Esme Fuller-Thom­son
Pro­fes­sor & San­dra Rot­man Endowed Chair
Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work &
Depart­ment of Fam­i­ly & Com­mu­ni­ty Med­i­cine
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to