Prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome among university students: the roles of worry, neuroticism, anxiety sensitivity and visceral anxiety

J Psychosom Res. 2003 Dec;55(6):501-5. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3999(03)00019-9.


Objective: Relationships between presence of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), chronic worry, neuroticism, anxiety sensitivity and anxiety about visceral sensations were examined among university students.

Methods: College student participants were administered self-report diagnostic measures of IBS and GAD, the Penn State Worry Questionnaire (PSWQ), the Neuroticism subscale of the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire, the Anxiety Sensitivity Index (ASI) and five additional items designed to measure visceral anxiety.

Results: The prevalence of IBS and its associated characteristics among students were similar to previous community survey studies, with the exception of lower symptom severity in the university sample. IBS was associated with a higher frequency of GAD and greater worry, neuroticism, anxiety sensitivity and visceral anxiety. Logistic regression analyses further showed that the measure of anxiety specific to visceral sensations was the strongest predictor of IBS diagnostic status.

Conclusions: While various aspects of anxiety appear related to IBS, specific anxiety about visceral sensations appears to be the most significant factor. Implications of the associations between anxiety-related variables, particularly anxiety about visceral sensations, are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / epidemiology
  • Abdominal Pain / psychology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Arousal*
  • Attitude to Health*
  • California
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / psychology*
  • Male
  • Personality Inventory
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / epidemiology
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / psychology*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Students / statistics & numerical data