Epidemiology and psychological factors of the irritable bowel syndrome

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The irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has been labelled a 'psychosomatic' disorder for more than 50 years, although continuous research has neither proved nor disproved or condoned nor condemned involvement of psychosocial factors in disease onset and course. Psychopathological personality traits and illness behaviour have been found frequently in patients with IBS, who have been shown to experience more life stress than healthy subjects; stress responses as well as pain perception have been found to be abnormal, and psychotherapy has been found to be more effective than medical treatment alone. While these studies indisputably show that psychosocial factors are involved in IBS, they also support the notion that what may be true in one patient may not be so in another, and that IBS — from a behavioral point of view — may not represent a unique psychosomatic entity.

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