Abdominal Pain Associated with Digestive Problems Linked to Stress and Anxiety

Abdominal pain associated with digestive problems is more common than we think. In fact, one in ten people experiences pain after eating, according to a global study of 54,127 people from 26 countries. The study was presented during the American European Gastroenterology Research Week 2021 (UEG Week Virtual 2021).

Stomach Pain

Stomach Pain

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About 11% of the world’s population – 13% of women and 9% of men – regularly suffer from abdominal pain after eating, according to the study of more than 50,000 respondents conducted by a team from KU Leuven (Belgium) and the University of Gothenburg (Sweden).

Abdominal pain is definitely linked to stress and anxiety

Pain after meals seems to be most common in those aged between 18 to 28, with 15% of this age group suffering from pain. Also, participants who experience this gastrointestinal pain are also more likely to suffer from bloating and other gas-related disorders. Furthermore, these same participants are those who also report feeling very full after a meal, or eating too fast and are more likely to report suffering from constipation and diarrhea.

The same group also has a higher risk of psychological distress and other somatic symptoms than gastrointestinal symptoms.

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36% of people who suffer from pain after eating also suffer from anxiety, while the prevalence of anxiety was only 18% among those who did not suffer from meal-related pain.

Those who suffer such pain often also report higher levels of depression (35 percent) compared to 17 percent of those who do not suffer stomach pain.

“In general, people who suffer from meal-related abdominal pain are more likely to have other gastrointestinal symptoms and are also more likely to meet criteria for brain-gut axis disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These individuals, therefore, have a greater burden of psychological and somatic symptoms that also interfere with their quality of life.

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In clinical practice, assessing the combination of abdominal pain and meals in all patients could help identify patients with brain-gut axis disorders, as this “chief complaint of pain after meals” is specific for diagnosis, the authors conclude.


Worldwide Prevalence and Burden of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, Results of Rome Foundation Global Study



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