Association between early adverse life events and irritable bowel syndrome

Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012 Apr;10(4):385-90.e1-3. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2011.12.018. Epub 2011 Dec 16.


Background & aims: Although childhood and adult abuse are more prevalent among patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) than healthy individuals (controls), other types of early adverse life events (EALs) have not been well characterized. We investigated whether different types of EALs, before age 18 years, are more prevalent among patients with IBS, and the effects of sex and nongastrointestinal symptoms on the relationship between EALs and IBS.

Methods: EALs were evaluated in 294 IBS patients (79% women) and 435 controls (77% women) using the Early Trauma Inventory Self-Report Form, which delineates subcategories of general trauma and physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Validated questionnaires assessed gastrointestinal, psychological, and somatic symptoms.

Results: Compared with controls, IBS patients reported a higher prevalence of general trauma (78.5% vs 62.3%), physical punishment (60.6% vs 49.2%), emotional abuse (54.9% vs 27.0%), and sexual events (31.2% vs 17.9%) (all P < .001). These significant differences were observed mainly in women. Of the EAL domains, emotional abuse was the strongest predictor of IBS (P < .001). Eight of the 27 EAL items were significant (P < .001) and increased the odds of having IBS by 108% to 305%. Although EALs and psychological variables were related, EALs had an independent association with IBS (P = .04).

Conclusions: Various types of EALs are associated with the development of IBS-particularly among women. Psychological distress and somatic symptoms might contribute to this relationship. When appropriate, EALs and nongastrointestinal symptoms should be assessed in IBS patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / complications*
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires