Prevalence of Gastrointestinal Symptoms and Irritable Bowel Syndrome Among Individuals With Symptomatic Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

J Clin Gastroenterol. 2022 Jan 28. doi: 10.1097/MCG.0000000000001670. Online ahead of print.

David J Kearney 1, Kendra J Kamp, Meghan Storms, Tracy L Simpson


Author information

VA Medical Center Division of Gastroenterology Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine, University of Washington Center of Excellence in Substance Addiction Treatment and Education, VA Puget Sound Healthcare, Seattle, WA.


Goals: Our aim was to describe the prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other gastrointestinal symptoms in a sample of veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and to examine the relationship between gastrointestinal symptoms, PTSD severity, depression severity, and number of prior traumatic events reported.

Background: IBS and PTSD can co-occur; yet, little research has focused on describing the gastrointestinal symptoms and prevalence of IBS among veterans with PTSD.

Materials and methods: We examined baseline data from a randomized clinical trial of behavioral interventions for veterans with PTSD. Veterans completed questionnaires assessing gastrointestinal symptoms (Gastrointestinal Patient-Reported Outcome Measures Information Systems; PROMIS) and lifetime traumatic events. Multivariable regression analyses were performed to examine associations between gastrointestinal symptoms and the number of prior traumas reported PTSD severity, and depression symptom severity.

Results: One hundred eighty-four veterans with a diagnosis of PTSD were included. Twenty-five percent met the Rome III criteria for IBS. Veterans reported gastrointestinal symptoms including abdominal/belly pain (36%), diarrhea (21%), constipation (18%), and bloating/gas (17%). In multivariable analyses, greater PTSD severity was associated with worse constipation (P=0.008), diarrhea (P=0.005), and gas/bloating (P=0.001) when controlling for age and sex. Higher levels of depressive symptoms severity were associated with greater abdominal/belly pain (P=0.04).

Conclusions: Among a sample of veterans with PTSD, rates of IBS and abdominal/belly pain are greater than general US population reference values. Although levels of constipation and bloating/gas are lower than general US population reference values, increased severity of PTSD was associated with increased gastrointestinal symptoms.

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