UCLA and University of North Carolina 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 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.
According to previous studies, more than 50 percent of patients with IBS have been physically or sexually abused at some time in their lives. 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. Brain imaging studies were performed at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIDDK and NCCAM).
The following authors are available to comment: Dr. Emeran Mayer, professor of medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; Dr. Douglas Drossman, professor of medicine, and Dr. Yehuda Ringel, lead study author and assistant professor of medicine, both at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The research appears in the Feb. 1 online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Gastroenterology.