Increased abdominal pain during final examinations

A. Harris, B. J. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Scopus citations

Abstract

Anecdotes and animal experiments alike suggest that physiological and psychological stress can profoundly alter gastrointestinal function. However, few studies have examined, in humans, real-world stress to see if free-living persons exhibit gut alterations similar to those produced in the laboratory. To investigate this possibility, we studied 16 medical and premedical students during final written examinations. As compared to a control day, the examination created a classic stress response: elevated serum cortisol (16±1 to 21±3 μg/dl;P<0.05), ACTH (31±1 to 33±1 pg/ml;P<0.05), heart rate (72±3 to 79±3 beats/min;P<0.05), arterial blood pressure (systolic pressure 106±2 to 120±2 torr;P<0.05; diastolic pressure 72±2 to 77±1 torr;P<0.05), and subjective anxiety (raw score 28±2 to 47±3;P<0.0001). In contrast, subjects displayed identical orocecal liquid transit time (of 0.36 g/kg lactulose in a 240-ml, 250-kcal liquid meal) under control (103±8 min) and examination conditions (106±8 min;P=NS). Mean subjective reports of gas, diarrhea, and borborygmi were unchanged on the day of the experiment, although the examination did increase reported abdominal pain (from 0.5±0.4 to 2.1±0.5 on a 0-5 analog scale;P<0.05). We conclude that examination stress in humans can increase gastrointestinal symptoms without altering orocecal transit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)104-108
Number of pages5
JournalDigestive diseases and sciences
Volume39
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1994

Keywords

  • ACTH
  • cortisol
  • gastrointestinal motility
  • psychological stress
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology

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