The relationship of current psychiatric disorder to functional disability and distress in patients with inflammatory bowel disease

Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 1996 Jul;18(4):220-9. doi: 10.1016/0163-8343(96)00036-9.


Although prior theories about psychiatric disorders causing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have largely been discredited, these same disorders have at times been associated with functional gastrointestinal symptoms such as those found in irritable bowel syndrome. Since functional gastrointestinal symptoms can also occur in patients with organic pathology, we hypothesized that a current psychiatric disorder might amplify or produce additional gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with organic gastrointestinal diseases such as IBD, leading to additive functional disability and decreased quality of life. This pilot study evaluated a sequential sample of 40 IBD patients using the NIMH Diagnostic Interview Schedule, structured interviews for functional gastrointestinal symptoms, and prior episodes of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse as well as self-report measures of personality and disability. We compared IBD patients with and without a current psychiatric disorder while controlling for disease severity. Eight patients with major depression were treated with antidepressants. Patients with a current psychiatric disorder had significantly higher 1) mean number of lifetime psychiatric diagnoses, 2) prevalence rates of prior sexual and physical victimization, and, 3) mean numbers of both gastrointestinal and other medically unexplained symptoms despite no differences in severity of IBD. Significant and trend level differences were apparent on several measures of functional disability. A regression analysis showed that number of psychiatric diagnoses, number of functional gastrointestinal symptoms, and dissociation scale scores significantly discriminated the groups. Treatment of current major depression decreased functional disability despite no objective changes in gastrointestinal disease severity. It was concluded that the presence of a current psychiatric disorder appears to alter the perception of disease severity in patients with IBD. Nonrecognition of the psychiatric disorder may lead to unnecessary and aggressive interventions for IBD patients such as medication changes, invasive testing, or surgery. The presence of a current psychiatric illness also appears to be associated with increased functional disability. Psychiatric evaluation and treatment, therefore, have an important role in the ongoing management of IBD patients with distressing gastrointestinal symptoms not directly attributable to their IBD.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Adult
  • Antidepressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Disabled Persons / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / physiopathology
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / psychology*
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*


  • Antidepressive Agents