Background: Although previous studies have shown that psychological disturbances are frequently associated with the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the relation was not necessarily cause and effect. The development of chronic bowel symptoms resembling IBS after an episode of acute gastroenteritis has allowed us to examine prospectively the role of psychological factors.
Methods: 75 patients with acute gastroenteritis completed a series of psychometric tests soon after admission to hospital. Of these, 22 had persistent symptoms compatible with IBS after the acute illness, and in 20 of these the symptoms were still present at six months.
Findings: At the time of their initial illness, patients who subsequently developed IBS symptoms had higher scores for anxiety, depression, somatisation, and neurotic trait than those who returned to normal bowel function. The psychometric scores had not changed when remeasured three months after the acute illness. Lactose malabsorption was not an important factor.
Interpretation: These results support the hypothesis that psychological factors are important in IBS.