A new study has revealed a reduction in symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients due to lower stress and more control over diet at home.
In a confirmation of the gut-brain connection – which refers to the role of stress and psychological difficulties in triggering debilitating gut-related symptoms – in functional gastrointestinal disorders, patients with IBS saw their symptoms dramatically reduce when they were ordered to stay at home under COVID-19 lockdown orders.
The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown orders created a unique opportunity to study the impact of pandemic stressors and reduced social interaction on 129 IBS patients in Argentina. The patients, whose pre-pandemic data had already been collected through an earlier research project, were re-assessed during the lockdown with the same online survey that included multiple validated measures of IBS severity, anxiety, and depression, as well as questions about co-occurring illnesses such as heartburn, regurgitation, indigestion, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and nonmigraine headaches.
The research was selected for presentation at Digestive Disease Week.
Reducing stress and improving diet
During the Argentinian lockdown, the number of patients experiencing severe IBS fell sharply from 65 to 39, and the mean Irritable Bowel Syndrome Severity Scale score for the group also fell 66 points, from 278 to 212 on a 500-point scale.
The findings also demonstrated that IBS symptoms of pain, distention, stool consistency, anxiety, somatisation, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue symptoms all improved during the lockdown.
Juan Pablo Stefanolo, MD, a lead author on the study and a physician with the Neurogastroenterology and Motility section, Hospital de Clínicas José de San Martín, Buenos Aires University, Argentina, said: “One of our main hypotheses was that these patients were going to be worse because of pressure and stress due to COVID-19. We think the results have something to do with people staying at home. They were not exposed to outside stress, and at home they were able to avoid food triggers.
“Our results reinforce the concept that IBS, or functional gastrointestinal disorders, have a connection to psychosocial factors, as well as food and other factors. The gut-brain axis has a lot of facets.”
Headache, heartburn, and regurgitation, all of which are outside the category of functional disorders, became worse during the study, likely due to the increase in weight that nearly 60% of patients reported.