Stigmatization toward irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease in an online cohort

Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2017 Feb;29(2):10.1111/nmo.12921. doi: 10.1111/nmo.12921. Epub 2016 Aug 8.


Background: Stigma is associated with many negative health outcomes. Research has examined perceived and internalized stigma in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but less has been done to evaluate levels of enacted stigma associated with these conditions. The aim of this study was to evaluate the presence of enacted stigma toward IBS and IBD in the general population compared to an adult-onset asthma (AOA) control group.

Methods: Participants were recruited via social media and a research-dedicated website and completed all measures online. Participants were randomized to one of six clinical vignettes: (i) IBD male, (ii) IBD female, (iii) IBS male, (iv) IBS female, (v) AOA male, or (vi) AOA female. Participants read the assigned vignette and then completed measures of emotional empathy, level of familiarity, and enacted stigma.

Key results: Participants reported higher levels of enacted stigma toward IBS compared to both IBD and AOA. No differences in stigma were found between IBD and AOA. Higher levels of familiarity were most strongly correlated with reduced IBD-related stigma, with weaker but still significant correlations between level of familiarity and IBS and AOA. Higher levels of emotional empathy were associated with reduced stigma for IBD, IBS, and AOA.

Conclusions & inferences: Individuals with IBS experience greater levels of enacted stigma compared to IBD and AOA. This finding is consistent with previous research that has shown greater levels of perceived and internalized stigma in IBS compared to IBD.

Keywords: discriminatory behavior; enacted stigma; inflammatory bowel disease; irritable bowel syndrome; patient outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / epidemiology
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / psychology*
  • Internet / trends
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Media* / trends
  • Social Stigma*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*