Trauma and IBS
In recent years, science has become more clear that experiencing trauma--especially as a child--plays a prominent role in one developing health issues as an adult.
One of the first major bodies of study on this phenomenon was the 1998 “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” (ACE) study. Specifically, the ACE study surveyed 17,000 middle-income adults who had health data stretching back to their early childhoods. The research revealed a higher likelihood of those suffering from chronic illness as adults the more “adversities” those individuals experienced as children.1 These adversities include both mental and physical abuse, parental addiction and/or incarceration, parental divorce, living in poverty, and neighborhood violence.
Yet, this study didn't specifically look for or find a specific correlation between trauma and IBS. However, some more recent research has.
Connection between trauma and IBS
In 2015, a peer review paper titled, "Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Relationships with Abuse in Childhood" noted the potential for developing IBS in those who experienced abuse as children. In particular, the paper concluded that: "...a number of genetic and environmental factors may contribute to IBS, current data indicate that abuse in childhood, particularly sexual abuse, is one relevant environmental factor." 2
Another study, conducted by the Mayo Clinic, was presented at the American College of Gastroenterology’s (ACG) 76th Annual Scientific meeting in Washington, D.C. in 2018. For this study, which surveyed 2,623 study participants, patients with IBS were found to have experienced more trauma in their lives than those without IBS. This included traumas common before age 18, as well as after age 18, and included death of a loved one, divorce, natural disaster, house fire or car accident, physical or mental abuse.3
As I've discussed in other posts and also reported on for Harvard Health as a blogger, I've experienced extensive trauma in my life, especially as a child. I have no doubt the chronic pain and illness I developed later in life is at least partially a result of that past trauma, including my IBS. This doesn't mean the pain or illness is "all in my head." They are real diseases and disorders. But it helps me understand myself better. And while talk therapy is not going to cure my IBS or other illnesses, I find that learning coping strategies for my trauma have residual benefits for my symptoms and help me better manage my IBS.
Do you have a good understanding of what triggers your flares?