A Comparison of the Effects of COVID-19 on Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory Bowel Disease Patients While Working at Home and in the Office: A Retrospective Study



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Background Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have a strong relationship with psychological stress. Studies have shown increased stress levels in patients with IBS and IBD during the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic. The current literature on the impact of work environment on IBD and IBS symptoms is limited, particularly during the current pandemic. Objective This study aims to analyze how the pandemic impacted patients with IBS and IBD in the setting of staying home versus working outside the home. Methods After Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, a retrospective review of 245 patients with IBS and IBD who followed with our gastroenterology clinic in the past year was performed. Patients were asked about symptoms including, but not limited to, worsening diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. Pearson's chi-squared test was used for analysis. Results Of the 245 patients in our study, 67 had IBS, 166 had IBD, and 12 had both. The male-to-female ratio was 1:1.4. A total of 136 (55.5%) patients worked from home during the pandemic, while 109 (44.5%) patients worked outside. Eighty-three patients working from home reported no change in symptoms, 35 reported worsening symptoms, and 18 reported an improvement in symptoms. Sixty-eight patients working outside the home reported no change in symptoms, 26 reported worsening symptoms, and 15 reported improvements. Working outside the home had a statistically significant relationship with COVID-19 infection. Thirty patients were infected, of which 22 (73.3%) worked outside the home (p=0.01). Overall, 203 (82.8%) patients received the vaccine, and only 14 of these patients reported worsening gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms one week after receiving the vaccine. Comparable results were seen after dividing the data into cohorts of IBS and IBD patients. Of the patients with IBD staying at home, 15.9% had depression (p=0.01). Conclusion Most patients had symptoms at baseline. There was no statistically significant correlation between change in symptoms and work settings. Patients were less likely to be infected with COVID-19 while staying home. Our patient population showed a high vaccination rate of 82.9% as compared to the national average of 59.2% (source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)). Only 5.7% of the patients reported new or worsening gastrointestinal symptoms in the week following vaccination. The limitations of the study included its retrospective design and poor correlation in general between symptoms and disease activity in IBD patients.

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