Latest research

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in gastrointestinal conditions

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that is triggered by a distressing event or experience. It is estimated that up to 10% of people will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives, making it the second most common mental health disorder.
  • Around 1 in 5 individuals with a gastrointestinal condition experiences PTSD
  • Re-experiencing type symptoms – re-living the traumatic event (e.g. unwanted memories)
  • Arousal symptoms – being overly alert or wound up (e.g., disturbed sleep)
  • Cognitive and mood symptoms – dissociation and disruption in usually integrated functions (e.g., disruptions in memory and identity), feeling emotionally numb (e.g., loss of interest in daily activities)
  • Avoidance symptoms – avoiding reminders of the event (e.g., places, people or locations that are reminders of the event)

Psychologically patients may feel:

  • Irritable, anger or despair
  • Emotionally numb
  • Finding it difficult to relax or wind down
  • Impaired sleep
  • May start withdrawing from friends or family
  • Avoiding places for fear of negative outcomes
  • Hypervigilance
  • Pain catastrophising (e.g., what if the pain gets worse?)
  • Avoidance of day-to-day activities due to a fear of managing symptoms (e.g., fear of not being close to a toilet)
  • Heightened anxiety due to symptoms
  • The brain-gut axis is the communication system between your brain and gut. If functions to promote gastrointestinal and psychological balance. Dysregulation of the brain-gut axis has been implicated in a number of gastrointestinal conditions. An everyday example of our mind and gut communicating is when people experience butterflies in their tummy or an urgent need to go to the toilet before an important event.

Gut and Mind Axis

  • Due to this interplay between the brain. and the gut, psychosocial factors can influence brain-gut axis regulation and in turn impact gut physiology and associated symptoms.
  • A key factor known to impact the brain-gut axis is stress, so it is important to discuss any concerns with your medical team to ensure tailored treatment if appropriate.

Given the important connection between the brain and the gut it is important to discuss any concerns with your medical team, to ensure appropriate treatment if applicable.

  • Discuss any thoughts you may be experiencing about managing your gastrointestinal symptoms. For example,
    • Do you constantly get worried about the pain getting worse?
    • Do you avoid daily activities for fear of managing your symptoms?
    • Do you feel greater levels of distress when you have an activity you need to attend for fear of managing your symptoms?
  • Remember it is equally important to talk about what you are feeling. For example,
    • Are you starting to withdraw from friends and family?
    • Are you feeling isolated, or emotionally numb?
    • Are you finding yourself getting easily agitated?
    • Are you noticing frequent changes in mood?
    • Are you finding it difficult to relax and sleep?
  • Remember it is also important to raise concerns or fears regarding procedures you may need to have. For example,
    • How can I prepare for it?
    • What is the recovery time?
    • Is there another option?
    • Risks associated with the procedure
    • Previous negative experiences regarding similar procedures
    • Fears you may have regarding the procedure
  • Effective treatments for PTSD include a variety of therapies and some medications can also be helpful
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy focusses on the altering distorted thought patterns that may have developed as a result of trauma
  • Cognitive therapy helps patients to analyse distorted thoughts to reshape existing beliefs and modify problematic behaviour
  • Eye movement desensitisation reprocessing enables people to heal from symptoms and emotional distress and is designed to resolve traumatic memories.
  • You feel that you are struggling with the management of gastrointestinal symptoms and it is impacting your quality of life
  • You are unsure about effective ways of improving your quality of life
  • You are finding it difficult to relax or starting to withdraw from people around you.
  • Difficulty regulating your mood
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Not taking your medication consistently
  • Constantly thinking about your symptoms

Recent research key findings

Glynn H, Möller SP, Wilding H, Apputhurai P, Moore G, Knowles SR. Prevalence and Impact of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in Gastrointestinal Conditions: A Systematic Review. Digestive Diseases and Sciences. 2021/01/12 2021;doi:10.1007/s10620-020-06798-y

Glynn H, Knowles SR. A Phenomenological Investigation of Trauma in 18 Adults Living With Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Clinical Nursing Research. 2022:10547738221075649-10547738221075649. doi:10.1177/10547738221075649

Glynn H, Apputhurai P, Moore GT, Knowles SR. Exploring the Impact of Trauma and Psychosocial Processes on the Quality of
Life in Individuals Living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
J Gastrointestin Liver Dis. Aug 23 2022;doi:10.15403/jgld-4302.

Glynn H, Mikocka-Walus A, Knowles SR.  Editorial: Hospitalization Experiences and Post-traumatic Stress in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Opportunities for Change. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. 2022;doi:10.1093/ibd/izac166.

Heidi Glynn


Psychologist – BBSc, BA(Hons), MPsych, PhD, MAPS, Membership with the Australian Institute of Clinical Hypnosis and Psychotherapy.

Heidi graduated from Swinburne University with a PhD in 2023 and provides services under Medicare and private insurance. She completed her PhD in 2023 exploring trauma and psychosocial processes and the impact on Quality of Life in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. She is a Board-approved supervisor and member of the Australian Psychological Society.

Heidi is experienced in providing services which optimise an individual’s personal fulfillment and has a specific passion in the brain-gut field.

Click the button below to read more about Psychologist Heidi Glynn and our services offered.