NUI Galway seeks 1,000 participants for irritable bowel syndrome study

Researchers at the School of Psychology at NUI Galway are seeking more than 1,000 women who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome and other inflammatory bowel conditions to take part in an online study.

It will examine how people's personal psychology can influence conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, or colitis.

The symptoms of both irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease are similar, however the former is a disorder of function and the latter involves inflammation and clinical pathology. They encompass a number of gastrointestinal symptoms affecting many people.

These symptoms, which include feeling bloated, nauseous, having diarrhoea, an urgency to go to the toilet and pain, generally have a significant effect on people's quality of life and can be influenced by a number of stress related factors.

About 15 to 20 per cent of the population suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. Another 20,000 people suffer from one of the less common inflammatory bowel diseases, such as colitis or Crohn's disease, and a further 20 per cent of those diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease have a co-morbid diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.

According to the Rome III guidelines (the diagnostic criteria for functional gastrointestinal disorders ), for the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome one must experience recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort at least three times a month for the last three months. These symptoms must be associated with two or more of the following criteria: change in defecation habit, onset associated with a change in frequency of stool or onset associated with a change in form of stool.

Dr Jonathan Egan, the deputy director of the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at NUI Galway and board member of the MSc in Health Psychology, and a chartered health and clinical psychologist of the Psychological Society of Ireland is leading the study with Isha Doyle, a student in the MSc in Health Psychology at the University.

Dr Egan says stress is known to affect the severity and possibly the direction of these diseases and factors related to stress are an important focus of research in attempting to improve future treatments for these conditions.

"We are only starting to understand how the brain-gut axis operates, and it seems that it is important for people to 'connect with their gut reaction' in order to be able to understand their emotions.

The university's research will ask people who are experiencing these symptoms or those who have Crohn's disease or colitis what psychological factors improve or worsen their experience of these conditions.

"An initial analysis of the first 100 or so participants has indicated a high level of people feeling misunderstood by others. The symptoms can also affect a person’s sexual expression. Many have ongoing worry about planning their day so that they can access adequate toilet facilities. High levels of fatigue, poor ability to concentrate as well as high levels of stress, anxiety and mood being affected appear to be common."

Prospective participants can expect to answer questions related to physical symptoms they experience, and how irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease affects their quality of life in physical, emotional and social domains. Other measures will ask questions related to the participants’ relationships with certain people in their lives and whether they experience common symptoms of stress, depression or anxiety.

Isha Doyle, a student of the MSc in Health Psychology course at NUI Galway, states the researchers hope to gain further information on the extent to which the stress related variables examined in the study affect the symptoms and quality of of life, in both irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease samples.

"The findings of this study will allow the prominence of one or more of these variables to be identified and, in effect, will suggest the extent to which stress management should be focused on in treatments for these conditions and the type of stress management and psychological therapies that these individuals should focus on in order to improve the success of treatments."

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