The field of medicine has grown increasingly aware of the significant impact that our emotional and psychological health has on our physical well-being. While the mind and body are often considered two separate entities, it is difficult to dispute the fact that the two are intimately connected. Two important areas regarding this relationship are stress and depression. In fact, stress has become an important risk factor for a number of chronic health conditions, including hypertension and heart disease.

Now researchers have found evidence that stress and psychological trauma can, over the course of a lifetime, contribute to gastrointestinal problems, specifically irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. Sources of mental anguish include death of a family member or acquaintance, divorce, and physical or mental abuse.

In a recent study, scientists looked at 2623 subjects and found that among this group, psychological trauma was more common in adults with IBS. Trauma was classified more often as a general life trauma as opposed to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Previous research on the link with trauma and IBS focused on specific forms of trauma, including child and sexual abuse. The current study is the first to look at other forms of trauma as well as the impact of when they occurred.

The authors of the study hope that the information will help IBS sufferers to better understand why their condition arose and the role that stress may play in it. This will hopefully lead to better ways to help people cope with IBS and to address the potential underlying causes.

IBS is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that is characterized by abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. Doctors believe that it results from a change that occurs between the nerves and muscles in the bowels, a situation that may very well be influenced by psychological trauma.

In this country, an estimated 10% to 15% of the adult population reports some degree of IBS symptoms, though only 5% to 7% of the population has actually been diagnosed with the disorder. Though it is generally not life threatening, IBS can have a profound impact on a person's quality of life and has been linked to an increase in suicidal behavior. IBS tends to affect women more than men, and it is generally diagnosed before the age of 50 years. IBS is one of the most common conditions seen by primary care physicians.

If you believe you may be suffering from IBS, speak with your physician. For more information about IBS, visit the website for National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), a division of the National Insitutes of Health (NIH).