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How the coronavirus pandemic impacts irritable bowel syndrome

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Wed, 2 Jun 2021
How the coronavirus pandemic impacts irritable bowel syndrome

New research studies the impact of COVID‐19 on respondents with self‐reported irritable bowel syndrome.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder that makes millions of people miserable. It is linked to oversensitive nerves in the gut, causing devastating pains and cramps, as well as changes in the consistency or frequency of stools, among other symptoms. Previous studies have shown that stress has a negative effect on IBS.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the globe, intense stress rises among people as well – out of fear of contracting the deadly disease, and also from the strain of observing the strict measures taken to control the spread of the disease. Due to the pandemic, many people have also suffered from the loss of social connections and financial income, whether directly or indirectly. What’s more, changes to diet, lifestyle and daily activities during lockdown have harmful effects on health and well-being.

Dr Alla Demutska, Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at James Cook University in Singapore, collaborated with a team to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on the seriousness of symptoms in patients with IBS and on development of new IBS cases.

Individuals with self‐reported IBS during the COVID‐19 pandemic were surveyed to evaluate their knowledge, attitudes, and practices on personal hygiene and social distancing. The psychological impact of COVID‐19 was also measured through a validated questionnaire, Mental Health Continuum—Short Form, which was developed to help assess positive mental health and incorporate emotional, psychological, and social components.

The researchers concluded that “self-reported IBS respondents had worse well-being and compliance to social distancing measures than non-IBS respondents. Future research will focus on occupational stress and dietary changes during COVID-19 that may influence IBS.”

However, the study also showed that 26.6 per cent of participants had their IBS symptoms improved. “Surprisingly, our survey showed that instead of deteriorating IBS symptoms, there were more respondents with self-reported IBS who were status quo or became better during the COVID-19 pandemic – we called it the COVID-19 IBS paradox.”

Indeed, the results revealed that respondents with self‐reported IBS had overall poorer emotional, social, and psychological well‐being compared to non‐IBS respondents. What’s more, respondents with worsening IBS symptoms were less willing to practice personal hygiene and wanted social distancing to end as soon as possible.

The desire for social distancing measures to end sooner may suggest a lack of social support and engagement – elements that are crucial to IBS experience and treatment.

At the same time, working from home and flexible working arrangements offer benefits to IBS patients as well. For IBS patients, who sometimes feel that their conditions are governing their lives, having more control over their work environment can be particularly important.

Overall, more flexible working arrangements, less work‐related stress, and increased social well‐being can help the control and improvement of IBS.


Quek, S. X. Z., Loo, E. X. L., Demutska, A., Chua, C. E., Kew, G. S., Wong, S., Lau, H. X., Low, E. X. S., Loh, T. L., Lung, O. S., Hung, E. C. W., Rahman, M. M., Ghoshal, U. C., Wong, S. H., Cheung, C. K. Y., Syam, A. F., Tan, N., Xiao, Y., Liu, J.‐S., Lu, F., Chen, C.‐L., Lee, Y. Y., Maralit, R. M., Kim, Y.‐S., Oshima, T., Miwa, H., Pang, J., and Siah, K. T. H. (2021) Impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic on irritable bowel syndrome. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology,

Discover further information on areas of research and research strength at James Cook University in Singapore.


Media: Pinky Sibal [email protected]