The Link Between Mental Health Disorders and Ulcerative Colitis 

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The Link Between Mental Health Disorders and Ulcerative Colitis 

It turns out there is a connection between mental health problems and  inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis.

Ulcerative colitis can have a wide range of symptoms and complications — from rectal pain and bleeding to weight loss, skin sores, joint pain, and even kidney and liver problems.

Mental health problems also commonly overlap with ulcerative colitis, although it’s less clear that they usually develop as a direct result of the disease. Instead, many people may be somehow predisposed to both conditions.

But there’s no question that living with ulcerative colitis brings challenges that can lead to negative thoughts, which may exacerbate symptoms of depression or anxiety in people with these conditions.

It’s important to note, though, that there’s no evidence to support stress, tension, or anxiety causing ulcerative colitis. But these factors can have a major impact on how you experience and cope with the disease.

How Common Are Mental Health Issues With Ulcerative Colitis?

It’s difficult to know exactly how common mental health issues are in people with ulcerative colitis.

Some people with ulcerative colitis may not report psychological stress to their doctors, since they assume it’s a normal part of the illness or don’t want to show weakness.

Even when psychological issues are reported, this may not lead to a definitive diagnosis of anxiety or depression.

But a few studies have tried to estimate the prevalence of mental disorders in ulcerative colitis.

According to an article published in April 2012 in the journal Gastroenterology Research and Practice, the rate of anxiety and depression may be as high as 29 to 35 percent during remission, and as high as 80 percent for anxiety and 60 percent for depression during flares. (2)

In another study published in January 2015 in the Permanente Journal, researchers found that 82 percent of people with ulcerative colitis were also diagnosed with a mental disorder, compared with 54 of the general study population. These disorders were more likely to be diagnosed before ulcerative colitis than after it, especially in women.

Not everyone with ulcerative colitis has the same risk of mental health issues.

According to a study published in November 2012 in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, factors associated with anxiety in ulcerative colitis include:

  • Severe disease
  • Active flares
  • Not taking treatment as prescribed
  • Being disabled or unemployed
  • Having a low income

Factors associated with depression include:

  • Older age
  • Active flares
  • Being disabled or unemployed
  • Having a low income

How Mental Health and Ulcerative Colitis Interact

The links between ulcerative colitis and mental health disorders are complex, with each potentially having an impact on the other in several different ways.

In some people with ulcerative colitis, being diagnosed with the disease can bring about feelings of frustration or sadness, and cause them to become withdrawn.

Other people may be worried about specific aspects of the condition, such as having bouts of gas, diarrhea, or pain in a social situation or public place. This can directly bring about anxiety or lead them to become isolated, which may in turn cause feelings of loneliness and despair and contribute to depression.

But as noted in the April 2012 article in Gastroenterology Research and Practice, there’s evidence that both depression and anxiety are more common in people who later develop ulcerative colitis than in the general population. This link seems to be strongest when the mental health conditions are diagnosed only a short time before ulcerative colitis.

These findings suggest that both mental health disorders and ulcerative colitis may have common risk factors, and that depression and anxiety may even contribute to ulcerative colitis.

The risk of anxiety also rises after a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis, though, which indicates that, in many people, the disease may contribute to anxiety.

It’s not just your risk of developing ulcerative colitis that may be affected by depression and anxiety. In a study published in June 2016 in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, researchers found that depression was associated with a greater incidence of flares in ulcerative colitis.

Anxiety was also associated with less time between flares, along with greater use of steroids in people with ulcerative colitis. (5)

Read on: The Link Between Mental Health Disorders and Ulcerative Colitis | Everyday Health

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