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Does Depression Influence Symptom Severity in Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Case Study of a Patient With Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Bipolar Disorder

Crane, Catherine BA; Martin, Maryanne MA, DPhil; Johnston, Derek MA, PhD; Goodwin, Guy M. DPhil, FRCPsych

doi: 10.1097/01.PSY.0000088590.01737.07

Objective Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is frequently associated with mood disorder. However, it is typically difficult to distinguish between disturbed mood as a causal agent and disturbed mood as a consequence of the experience of IBS. This report considers the association between mood and symptom severity in a patient with diarrhea-predominant IBS and stable, rapid cycling bipolar disorder with a predominantly depressive course. Such a case provides an important opportunity to determine the direction of the relationship between mood and IBS symptom severity because the fluctuations of mood in bipolar disorder are assumed to be driven largely by biological, rather than psychosocial, processes.

Methods The study was carried out prospectively, with ratings of mood and IBS symptom severity made daily by the patient for a period of almost 12 months.

Results The patient experienced regular and substantial changes in mood as well as fluctuations in the level of IBS symptoms during the study period. Contrary to expectation, the correlation between mood and IBS symptom severity on the same day suggested that the patient experienced less severe IBS symptoms during periods of more severe depression. However, time series analysis revealed no significant association between these two processes when serial dependence within each series was controlled for.

Conclusions The unusual co-occurrence of IBS with bipolar disorder provides direct evidence to indicate that depression does not necessarily lead to an increase in the reported severity of IBS, at least in the context of bipolar disorder, and may under certain circumstances actually be associated with a reduction in the severity of IBS symptoms. Factors that might moderate the relationship between depression and symptom severity are discussed.

From the Department of Experimental Psychology (C.C., M.M.), University of Oxford; Department of Psychology (D.J.), St. Andrews University; and University Department of Psychiatry (G.M.G.), Warneford Hospital, Oxford.

Address reprint requests to: Catherine Crane, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Warenford Hospital Oxford, OX3 7JX, UK. Email:

Received October 17, 2002; revision received April 8, 2003.

Copyright © 2003 by American Psychosomatic Society
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