Now, the BBC reports the following research:
Perfectionists are more prone to developing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) after an infection, a study has suggested. University of Southampton researchers asked 620 people with gastroenteritis about stress and their illness. Those who pushed themselves or were particularly anxious about symptoms were more likely to develop IBS. Experts said the study, published in Gut, may explain why only some people develop IBS after a gut infection.The conclusions from the paper are as follows:
Results suggest that patients with high stress and anxiety levels are more prone to develop IBS after a bout of gastroenteritis. Additional risk factors include a tendency to interpret illness in a pessimistic fashion and to respond to symptoms in an all-or-nothing mannerSomething I find curious about this report is that when the BBC invites Professor Robin Spiller, an IBS expert from University Hospitals Nottingham and the editor of Gut, to comment, he says
"There is probably a complicated mechanism at work here." He said there were two potential explanations. "It might be that stress and anxiety affects the immune system. But it could also be that if you don't rest, it might do you more harm."But it's not as though this is the first piece of research on the subject. My home town of Ilkley in West Yorkshire has a second author of a book on psychosomatic medicine. I met Nick Read, a consultant gasteroenterologist and a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, as we ran a session together at the Ilkley Literature Festival. In his book, Sick and Tired: Healing the illnesses doctors cannot cure (Phoenix 2005, page 121), Nick reports on research carried out by a colleague, Dr. Kok-Ann Gwee, which studied over 100 people admitted to hospital with acute gasteroenteritis.
Those in whom the symptoms persisted had suffered more anxiety or depression at the time of the acute illness and had experienced more traumatic life events during the six months prior to the gasteroenteritis.Further studies showed this to be the case for other kinds of infection.
Emotional upset at the time of the acute illness predicted the persistence of the original symptoms. Or to put it a different way, it appeared as if the symptoms of the acute infection had been 'recruited' to express an unresolved emotional problem. (page 122)So this would seem to rule out the 'lack of rest' theory.
I should add that Nick's book can be recommended for other reasons. Besides reporting on such large sample research, he also includes many vignettes of his patients, weaving their illnesses with their life stories.