Can Trauma Be a Factor in IBS?

Trauma can cause a slew of symptoms including panic, distress, sleeping disorders, and in some cases, flashbacks. But, can trauma be a factor in Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS)?

Some might think that psychological trauma would only have psychological repercussions, but a recent study presented at the American College of Gastroenterology’s annual scientific meeting shows that the connection between the mind and the body may be stronger than previously thought.

trauma and irritable bowel syndrome
IBS is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that is characterized by stomach pains, bloating, diarrhea, and other intestinal problems. And, although it has all the characteristics of a purely physical ailment, there is currently no medically agreed upon cause for IBS.

Yuri Saito-Loftus, MD and other researchers from the Mayo Clinic surveyed 2,623 adult participants to determine their level of psychological trauma and the presence of IBS.

The types of trauma on the survey included death of a loved one, divorce, physical or mental abuse, as well as others.

The result that was most interesting to me was that childhood trauma was twice as likely to have occurred in the lives of people with IBS.

Now we have to be careful − the fact that prior trauma and current IBS symptoms co-occur (correlate) cannot be construed to mean that trauma causes IBS. But the results are intriguing.

This suggests that trauma may lead to more than just psychological symptoms. It can actually affect the body.

Those of us in mind-body medicine have believed for years that many medically unexplainable conditions, like IBS, can have their roots in psychological issues.

Patients with IBS miss more days of work, take more medications, have lower work productivity, and are hospitalized more frequently than people without IBS, all resulting in higher healthcare costs, according to a study published in the Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy. Knowing that trauma could be the real culprit behind IBS helps shed light on a condition that may affect as many as 10-15% of all Americans.

The real gem of this study is that it demonstrates how physical conditions and symptoms can be more than what they appear to be, and can sometimes be signals of a deeper psychological issue.

When we know the latest treatments of trauma we can provide the most effective healing for our patients. Join us for the New Treatments in Trauma Webinar Series to learn about the most recent findings from the top experts in the field.

You can attend the webinars in this series for free at the time of broadcast, you just need to sign up.

Have you ever seen a patient who experienced physical symptoms that may have been connected to psychological trauma? What did you do? Please leave a comment below.

(If you’re interested in reading more about how childhood trauma affects the mind and body, check out this past post).

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25 Comments

  1. Pharmg89 says:

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  2. Elizabeth Martinson says:

    I have seen IBS treated with SE very successfully. Also know someone who was able to receive assistance with medical hynotherapy. It seems to be the sympathetic responses of fight and flight that are highly activated and are unable to complete their process. Flight is elimination to lighten the body for running and fight is keeping everything in the provide the body with the power it needs to fight. The SE technique of pendulation works well with IBS.

  3. Cathi Gross says:

    When I was in my 20s, a Doctor said I had IBS and the usual stuff was given to me to help fix the problem. It did not work, so through the years I looked for other solutions. By the time I was 40, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroid Disease and two years later my adrenal gland started slowing down to the point that I needed Bio-Natural Cortisol. Adding a little Cortisol actually helps my body to get the Thyroid hormones that my body needs. Thyroid without the Cortisol doesn’t work. Anyway, as, my health continued to go downhill. I forced the issues about being tested for Celiac Disease and guess what. The tests came up positive along with the DNA Gene that told me I had the genes for Celiac. In all those years of going to a doctors, not one of them mentioned being tested for Celiac and finally at age 52 I had to force the issue. I believe that is just plain wrong, and Doctors need to grow up in their understanding of Autoimmune Disease and Using DNA to help patients to understand what might be going on in their body. Perhaps the Body doesn’t have the ability to digest certain types of foods. Something that starts early on and there are signs like IBS that prove it. Anyway, I did do the Gluten Free Diet for two years, and was very strict from changing everything in my kitchen to toothpaste to what I used on my body or in the air, but it still wasn’t healing my Gut. So, I did more research and ran across the original Celiac Diet called “Management of Celiac Disease” by Sidney Valentine Haas and his son Merrill Patterson Haas. Dr. Sidney Valentine Haas was a very prominent pediatric doctor in New York back in the 1950s and he through his diet for Celiac Disease healed close to 600 of his patients that came to him. Two other books have been written since, which help to explain this diet even better and they are called “Breaking The Vicious Cycle” by Elaine Gottschall B.A., M.Sc. and “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, MMedSci(neurology), MMedSci(Nutrition). Why have we have stopped using Dr. Hass’s diet to help patients with IBS and other types of intestinal issues. Along with the ability to Check DNA for particular Diseases , which I feel is a lot better than using the stupid Gold Standard intestinal biopsy that doesn’t show up as proof, until you are already way far along with the Celiac Decease . I personally would have liked to have had the choice to determine what’s best for me. Had I started on the SCD diet years ago, I may have not had many of the other Autoimmune issues that I now have. If you want to say something psychological triggered the DNA Gene on fine. Trauma of any kind may have done that, but if a person is already showing signs, such as IBS lets go further and see what the DNA Gene says and then put them on a diet of food that they can eat to heal their gut, instead of waiting for further test to show up Celiac Disease of Gluten Sensitivity. Don’t make a patient like myself have to wait 20 some years to get the right answer. Testing ones DNA would speed up the process and maybe save the patient from other Auto-immune diseases and damage, while waiting for a positive from other tests.

    Sincerely,
    Cathi G.
    Ventura, CA

  4. Andrea Barbis, LCSW-R says:

    Hi-

    Thank you for sharing this. I looked for the full journal article on the JMCP website and through our medical library and can’t find this. Do you have a full citation? I would really like to read the article.

    Thanks

    Andrea

  5. mana says:

    It makes total sense to me. I have had stomach issues since my mother died, after 8 years of slow death from cancer. That was my childhood. It has been 50 years now. We are now understanding trauma, PTS, sensitivity, the basics of Traditional Chinese Medicine. I was told forever that I needed to “deal with it”, “get over it”… only now can I because we have identified issues that were denied before. How could the two not be related?
    Mana

  6. Laura Capehart-Hall says:

    Have any of you heard of Trauma Sensitive Yoga?

  7. Julia Tupper, CPC says:

    I have engaged in relatively extensive research in the link between early childhood trauma and late emerging disease states, including but not limited to IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disorder) which may also include IBS of which you speak here. In the many discussions that have been going on here (with experts in the field of trauma) it is evident that trauma lodges in the body (i.e. is absorbed by the body and therefore is held as a body memory on a number of levels, including the “under siege” time warp loop of fight, flight, freeze, that manifests as hyper/hypo emotionality / dis-regulation.) Trauma thwarts development, even as other aspects of development continue, and therefore pockets of its impact/perception remain locked in the time loop, not only of “memory” as we typically conceive of memory but also in the body’s homeostatic response to stress ~ this is the place where the body continually tries to keep it’s own chemical hormonal balance so all systems can keep running. If there is an unconscious conditioned response to fear/siege from early (repeated) trauma, the body is continually responding to what it perceives is a “life and death” (fight, flight, freeze) situation, with a wash of chemicals and hormones. Over time, the body can no longer maintain the homeostatic position, and therefore diseases and conditions of which we may have been genetically predisposed begin to emerge….

    The best thing that I can do for clients is first educate and then help them find safety in self-regulation (breathing is the easiest, but sometimes there are other things that work better at first) and then to learn to separate the different emotions from each other, and find some words for them. It’s also useful to help clients know the difference between a thought and a feeling. All this just takes simple unthreatening practice. Mostly the client needs to know that there is a safe place inside that they can rely on!

  8. Martine says:

    I do regression to cause in hypnosis. Most people I see for IBS had a trauma before the age of 5. One case, a 68 yr old lawyer came to me after trying everything in the last 40 yrs. ISE was at 4 yr old when he was sexually attacked, and 2 yrs when attacked by a mentally ill person. sometimes it is a small trauma, that seamed large at the time. By the way hypnosis as been proven to be the best in helping IBS. cure rate is 85% (30% for meds). It is especially powerfull before the age of 70. after that is more difficult to helo them.

  9. There is no doubt in my mind that all symptoms above may begin psychologically/raumatically, cause the body to respond and feel the problem, and then if things continue these symptoms manifest physically. I have watched them come and go with my automatic responses or my mindset.
    They can be cleared up too as we learn to release them and release the trauma

  10. Sandy says:

    I have been seeing a patient for about 3 months now. She had quite a traumatic childhood. I have done a lot of inner child repair work with her, particularly Richard Swartz’s Internal Family Systems methods. Last week she told me “Before I came to see you I always had a bloated stomach, but my stomach is totally flat now”. It is true that we hold our emotions in our body, in her case it was in her stomach. As she healed her fears from her childhood, she didn’t have to hold them in her stomach anymore.

    You just gotta love psychotherapy!

  11. Thank-you Ruth for this interesting post. IBS is a good example of what Dr. Peter Levine means about the system being overwhelmed and “locked down”. Below is a link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByalBx85iC8

  12. Jody says:

    ACE study-Adverse Childhood Experiences-Robert Anda MD and Vincent Felitti MD
    -ongoing study with Kaiser Permanente, over 17,000 participants and collaborating with Center for Disease Control in Georgia
    …high powered demonstration in ongoing and long term study of impact of childhood trauma on health and illness throughout life; as well as on economic and social factors thus making trauma a public health issue!
    acestudy.org

  13. Cindy Levy says:

    This is nothing new. We have an enteric nervous system which has receptors for neurotransmitters, including serotonin. It follows that trauma which causes us to freeze and store this energy would eventually lead to conditions such as IBS. The mind-body connection should be front and center in our clinical work. Thank you for this.

  14. Gina Abbott says:

    I had a horse accident 2 years ago. Even though I was wearing a helmet my brain hit my own skull and I was in a coma for some time. I still can’t walk comfortably by myself. Driving and running is out of the question. I am 36 years old and back at home living with my parents who are divorced and just moan that I am costing them too much time and money. Whatever. Seems like they can purchase new cars build cottages on the very farm my father lives, go overseas but I am a huge irritation for them. I have told them sorry I did not plan my accident better and kill myself cos I sure as hell can do without the trouble that I am causing myself. I am totally isolated here staying at my father. I have not seen people my own age in 3 weeks. Just stare at the cieling and contemplate my life. And what a life I am having at the moment. I pray every morning that night will just come so I can fall asleep. There is nothing to do here.

    • Kathy C says:

      Gina,

      I am so sorry to hear about your situation. It sounds really dreadful! I sincerely hope you realize that your life is not over! It may have changed direction. But you don’t really have a death sentence here. There is always hope and things you can do to make your life satisfying.

      I have no credentials (other than having depression myself) to back up what I am saying. It sounds to me like you are depressed and angry. Please get on the phone and find a social worker or a social service agency to help you find low cost therapy, and possibly medication. Changing your disposition will greatly assist in your body healing. Then you can figure out how to restructure and resume your life. I don’t know what kind of designer you are. But surely you can work from home with some assistance.

      Don’t let this situation drown you. Yes, it will be challenging! It is far too easy to give up. Can you imagine how great you will feel once you start moving in a positive direction to improve this? Many before you have had equally or harder struggles and have gone on to have rich and satisfying lives.

      I am sending out good thoughts and wishes your way for continuing recovery for you.

      Here’s to your good health and happiness,

      Kathy

  15. It is so great to see some validation regarding IBS and emotional trauma. I have worked with a few clients with IBS and it is always amazing to see the symptoms of IBS decrease when emotional issues are resolved. Most of these folks were not seeking help with IBS but with other personal issues but yet when they made a breakthrough with their “stuff” the IBS was not as big as a problem for them. Thank you so much for keeping us updated on all the new research onthe mind/body connection!

  16. There is a connection I’m living proof

  17. Noreen Owens says:

    Hanna Somatics identifies three major reflex patterns that get stuck over time; your brain is literally holding the muscles in a habituated state of contraction – a condition called Sensory Motor Amnesia. Trauma is one of the three major reflex patterns. Hanna Somatics refers to this reflex pattern as the Red Light Reflex. This reflex pattern is triggered by fear, worry, and apprehension…any negative thoughts, experiences or emotions. Trauma contracts the muscles in the front of the body. The abdominal muscle is especially vulnerable. When the abdominal muscle becomes stuck in a chronic state of contraction, it pulls the rib cage and pelvis together, restricting breathing, digestion, and elimination. It also distorts your posture, rounding your shoulders forward and causing an imbalance in the body that pulls the body in a forward slant causing the weight of the body to shift to the knees rather than the hips. This can eventually cause hip, knee, or foot pain. So yes…to answer your question, clients in the habituated reflex pattern of trauma commonly have elimination problems, and more. Hanna Somatics reverses these symptoms by restoring function to the tight abdominal muscle through sensory motor awareness retraining. usually symptoms lesson or disappear within three sessions, and clients learn how to maintain that on their own by doing a brief daily movement routine.

  18. In describing and recommending NICABM, I once got the meaning of the letters mixed up and wrong, calling it the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Mind and Body. Ever thought of changing your name? The arrows are pointing increasingly beyiond Behavioural Medicine? Anyone agree?

  19. Jerry E Wesch, PhD says:

    I had IBS symptoms in college (1961-65) but only during the week before & during exams. The Student Health Service physicians gave me these wonderful green & black capsules that helped a lot but did not tell me they were Librium or that I had a stress disorder. A Psychiatry Resident working in the Walk-in Clinic finally told me I had stress disorder and I needed counseling. After an argument to just give me my pills, he said go to the Library and read Franz Alexander’s text “Psychosomatic Medicine” – the rest is history. I did the counseling and went on to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology. I am now in my 42nd year of doing mind/body therapy.

    I now work with many soldiers who have IBS-like symptoms after deployments. After sending them to the GI docs in a fruitless search for parasites, bacteria or viruses, we decided they had no seratonin left and just added IBS to the list of PTSD symptoms like sleep disturbance, depression, emotional numbing, anger and hyperarousal that partially arise from a chronically stressed nervous system & body. Duh… Biofeedback and CAM therapies help a lot… Thanks for the reminder.

  20. Confirming once again what literature has proposed! Currently, I am working with a focus group using a particular neurofeedback protocol, designed by Jaclyn Gisburne and Jana Harr of Rocky Mountain NeuroAdvantage in Colorado. It addresses Parkinsons Disease, Fibromyalgia and many chronic conditions, including IBS, as trauma being accommodated by the body until overwhelm causes physical breakdown. Recently, this work was presented and discussed at a conference with Bessel VanderKolk. Results are promising. To see the facial expression of a Parkinsons patient return is an amazing experience. Consider trauma as multiple events accumulating until body break down in the most vulnerable physical aspect of self. So pleased you continue to bring this issue forward and re-introducing the therapeutic community to the work of Babette Rothschild and Richard Scaer.

    • Yes and sometimes once one has this lens, the evidence just stares one in the face. How tragic for so many people and now so many of my friends that the medical profession still continues to teach and pursue a dualism that splits mind and body and knows very little of spirit. How long will this go on as more and more people continue to suffer?

      On the other hand perhaps we are in the midst of a new awakening or maybe new evidence from neuroscience so that perhaps the obvious to which we have been so blind will now be seen.

      Aviva

  21. The fact that EFT will relieve physical manifestations of emotional trauma more often than any other therapy I know is for me adequate proof of the validity that we are actually minnd/body/spirit. There is no separation. Thank you for your excellent talks

  22. There is nothing new or groundbreaking about what these studies show but I am glad you are highlighting it. During my own training as a therapist we were very much exposed to theories of body symbology and how trauma may show up in the body. Peter Levine, Dr Arthur Janov and Babette Rothschild, Dr Frank Lake and many others have been working and writing about this material for decades. It’s about time the medical profession caught up!

  23. I currently working with a combat vet with IBSEN and expect improvement…the metaphor is seeing, experiencing things that made him “sick to hs stomach.”. The body literalness/ somatizes the metaphor. I’m other sure people/traua therapists have experienced this working with people recovering from trauma. Isolde interested to hear from them/you.

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