Psychological stress and disease activity in ulcerative colitis: a multidimensional cross-sectional study

Am J Gastroenterol. 1994 Aug;89(8):1219-25.


Objectives: It is not known whether any link exists between life stress and disease activity in ulcerative colitis; attempts to demonstrate one have been complicated by recall bias, distressing psychological consequences of disease, psychogenic symptom exaggeration, and an irritable bowel component of inflammatory bowel disease symptoms. We therefore studied the relationship between psychological measures and two different aspects of ulcerative colitis activity.

Methods: The relation of perceived stress, depression, state anxiety, trait anxiety, and life events with endoscopic appearance of the rectal mucosa was studied "blind" in 46 asymptomatic outpatients with known ulcerative colitis. The same measures were then examined in relation to subjective activity, comparing the group in clinical remission with 32 ulcerative colitis outpatients who reported symptoms.

Results: Among asymptomatic patients, the level of stress over the past 2 yr on the General Perceived Stress Questionnaire was higher in the 11 with mucosal abnormalities than in the 35 with a normal rectal mucosa (p = 0.004). Among the entire population, symptomatic patients were more likely to recall major life events in the previous 6 months than the asymptomatic group (p = .02). Adjustment for smoking and for duration of remission did not substantially alter these findings.

Conclusions: Life stress is associated with both objective and subjective aspects of activity in ulcerative colitis. Although the association of life events with reported symptoms may be subject to recall bias, the association of perceived stress with rectal mucosal abnormalities in asymptomatic patients is strongly suggestive of a true link between psychological factors and ulcerative colitis activity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / diagnosis
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / epidemiology
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Proctoscopy
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology