UCLA and University of North Carolina (UNC) researchers have found that women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who have experienced sexual and/or physical abuse may have a heightened brain response to pain that makes them more sensitive to abdominal discomfort. IBS is a condition that affects 10 to 15 percent of the population and causes gastrointestinal discomfort along with diarrhea, constipation or both.
Researchers at UNC and UCLA used brain imaging to show that patients with IBS who also had a background of abuse were not as able to turn off a pain modulation mechanism in the brain as effectively as were IBS patients who had not suffered abuse.
Sexual and/or physical abuse is reported in up to 50 percent of patients with IBS and other functional gastrointestinal disorders seen in tertiary-referral gastroenterology clinics, which is a higher prevalence than that seen in the general population or in patients with organic GI disorders. The new finding may help explain why those in this subset of IBS patients experience greater pain and poorer health outcomes than others with the disorder. Such insight provides a greater understanding of how the disorder develops and may offer new pathways for treatment.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIDDK and NCCAM).
The following authors are available to comment: Dr. Yehuda Ringel, lead study author and assistant professor of medicine, and Dr. Douglas Drossman, professor of medicine, both at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Dr. Emeran Mayer, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
The research appears in the Feb. 1 online edition of the peer‑reviewed journal Gastroenterology.