Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Stress-Related Psychiatric Co-morbidities: Focus on Early Life Stress

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2017;239:219-246. doi: 10.1007/164_2016_128.


Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional gastrointestinal disorder, with stress playing a major role in onset and exacerbation of symptoms such as abdominal pain and altered bowel movements. Stress-related disorders including anxiety and depression often precede the development of irritable bowel syndrome and vice versa. Stressor exposure during early life has the potential to increase an individual's susceptibility to both irritable bowel syndrome and psychiatric disease indicating that there may be a common origin for these disorders. Moreover, adverse early life events significantly impact upon many of the communication pathways within the brain-gut-microbiota axis, which allows bidirectional interaction between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. This axis is proposed to be perturbed in irritable bowel syndrome and studies now indicate that dysfunction of this axis is also seen in psychiatric disease. Here we review the co-morbidity of irritable bowel syndrome and psychiatric disease with their common origin in mind in relation to the impact of early life stress on the developing brain-gut-microbiota axis. We also discuss the therapeutic potential of targeting this axis in these diseases.

Keywords: Brain-gut-microbiota axis; Depression; Early life stress; Irritable bowel syndrome; Psychiatric disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Comorbidity
  • Enteric Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Health Status
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Intestines / innervation*
  • Intestines / microbiology
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / psychology*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / therapy
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy