Perceived Stress in Patients with Common Gastrointestinal Disorders: Associations with Quality of Life, Symptoms and Disease Management

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Objective and Methods:

Research supports relationships between stress and gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and disorders. This pilot study assesses relationships between perceived stress, quality of life (QOL), and self-reported pain ratings as an indicator of symptom management in patients who self-reported gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).


In the full sample (n = 402) perceived stress positively correlated with depression (r = 0.76, P < .0001), fatigue (r = 0.38, P < .0001), sleep disturbance (r = 0.40, P < .0001), average pain (r = 0.26, P < .0001), and worst pain (r = 0.25, P < .0001). Higher perceived stress also correlated with lower mental health–related QOL. Similar correlations were found for the participants with GERD (n = 188), IBS (n = 132), and IBD (n = 82). Finally, there were significant correlations in the GERD cohort between perceived stress, and average pain (r = 0.34, P < .0001) and worst pain (r = 0.29, P < .0001), and in the IBD cohort between perceived stress, and average pain (r = 0.32, P < .0001), and worst pain (r = 0.35, P < .01).


Perceived stress broadly correlated with QOL characteristics in patients with GERD, IBS, and IBD, and their overall QOL was significantly lower than the general population. Perceived stress also appeared to be an indicator of symptom management (self-reported pain ratings) in GERD and IBD, but not IBS. While future research using objective measures of stress and symptom/disease management is needed to confirm these associations, as well as to evaluate the ability of stress reduction interventions to improve perceived stress, QOL and disease management in these GI disorders, integrative medicine treatment programs would be most beneficial to study.

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