Stress-related consequences of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic on symptoms of Crohn's disease

Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2021 Dec 1;33(12):1511-1516. doi: 10.1097/MEG.0000000000002081.

Abstract

Objectives: A link between stress and Crohn's disease activity suggests an association, but results have been conflicting. The purpose of this study was to assess whether the stress related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic affected disease activity in patients with Crohn's disease.

Basic methods: An anonymous survey was distributed to patients through gastroenterology clinics and networks. Patients were asked to report their Crohn's disease symptoms in the months prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and again during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic using the Manitoba inflammatory bowel disease index in addition to questions about stress, perception of reasons for symptom change and personal impact.

Main results: Out of 243 individuals with a confirmed diagnosis of Crohn's disease, there was a 24% relative increase in active symptoms between the pre-COVID-19 period to the during-COVID-19 period (P < 0.0001) reflecting an absolute change from 45 to 56%, respectively. The most frequent reported reason for a change in symptoms was 'Increased stress/and or feeling overwhelmed' (118/236), and personal impact of the pandemic was, 'I'm worrying a lot about the future' (113/236), both reported by approximately half of respondents.

Principal conclusions: This study serves as a 'proof of concept' demonstrating the impact of a significant and uniquely uniform stressor as a natural experiment on Crohn's disease activity. The severity of symptoms of Crohn's disease increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The primary reported reason for symptom change was an increase in stress, not a change in diet, exercise or other lifestyle behaviours, corroborating the hypothesis that stress affects Crohn's disease activity.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Crohn Disease* / diagnosis
  • Crohn Disease* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Surveys and Questionnaires