Prevalence of symptoms of anxiety and depression in patients with inflammatory bowel disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2021 May;6(5):359-370. doi: 10.1016/S2468-1253(21)00014-5. Epub 2021 Mar 12.


Background: Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a lifelong condition with no cure. Patients with IBD might experience symptoms of common mental disorders such as anxiety and depression because of bidirectional communication via the gut-brain axis and chronicity of symptoms, and because of impaired quality of life and reduced social functioning. However, uncertainties remain about the magnitude of this problem. We aimed to assess prevalence of symptoms of anxiety or depression in adult patients with IBD.

Methods: In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we searched MEDLINE, Embase, Embase Classic, and PsycINFO for papers published from inception to Sept 30, 2020, reporting observational studies that recruited at least 100 adult patients with IBD and that reported prevalence of symptoms of anxiety or depression according to validated screening instruments. We excluded studies that only used a structured interview to assess for these symptoms and studies that did not provide extractable data. We extracted data from published study reports and calculated pooled prevalences of symptoms of anxiety and depression, odds ratios (OR), and 95% CIs.

Findings: Of 5544 studies identified, 77 fulfilled the eligibility criteria, including 30 118 patients in total. Overall, pooled prevalence of anxiety symptoms was 32·1% (95% CI 28·3-36·0) in 58 studies (I2=96·9%) and pooled prevalence of depression symptoms was 25·2% (22·0-28·5) in 75 studies (I2=97·6%). In studies that reported prevalence of anxiety or depression in patients with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis within the same study population, patients with Crohn's disease had higher odds of anxiety symptoms (OR 1·2, 95% CI 1·1-1·4) and depression symptoms (1·2, 1·1-1·4) than patients with ulcerative colitis. Overall, women with IBD were more likely to have symptoms of anxiety than were men with IBD (pooled prevalence 33·8% [95% CI 26·5-41·5] for women vs 22·8% [18·7-27·2] for men; OR 1·7 [95% CI 1·2-2·3]). They were also more likely to have symptoms of depression than men were (pooled prevalence 21·2% [95% CI 15·4-27·6] for women vs 16·2% [12·6-20·3] for men; OR 1·3 [95% CI 1·0-1·8]). The prevalence of symptoms of anxiety (57·6% [95% CI 38·6-75·4]) or depression (38·9% [26·2-52·3]) was higher in patients with active IBD than in patients with inactive disease (38·1% [30·9-45·7] for anxiety symptoms and 24·2% [14·7-35·3] for depression symptoms; ORs 2·5 [95% CI 1·5-4·1] for anxiety and 3·1 [1·9-4·9] for depression).

Interpretation: There is a high prevalence of symptoms of anxiety and depression in patients with IBD, with up to a third of patients affected by anxiety symptoms and a quarter affected by depression symptoms. Prevalence was also increased in patients with active disease: half of these patients met criteria for anxiety symptoms and a third met criteria for depression symptoms. Encouraging gastroenterologists to screen for and treat these disorders might improve outcomes for patients with IBD.

Funding: None.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Anxiety / etiology*
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / complications
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors