Academic journal article The Science Teacher

IBS and the Brain

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

IBS and the Brain

Article excerpt

A large academic study has demonstrated structural changes in specific brain regions of female patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that causes pain and discomfort in the abdomen, along with diarrhea, constipation, or both. A collaborative effort between the University of California--Los Angeles (UCLA) and Canada's McGill University, the study appears in the journal Gastroenterology. The findings show that IBS is associated with both decreases and increases in grey matter density in key areas of the brain involved in attention, emotion regulation, pain inhibition, and the processing of visceral information.

IBS affects approximately 15% of the U.S. population, primarily women. Currently, the condition is considered by the medical field to be a "functional" syndrome of the digestive tract not working properly, rather than an "organic" disorder with structural organ changes. Efforts to identify structural or biochemical alterations in the gut have largely been unsuccessful. Even though the pathophysiology is not completely understood, it is generally agreed that IBS represents an alteration in brain--gut interactions.

These study findings, however, show actual structural changes to the brain, which places IBS in the category of other pain disorders, such as lower back pain, temporomandibular joint disorder, migraines, and hip pain-conditions in which some of the same anatomical brain changes have been observed, as well as other changes. A recent, smaller study suggested structural brain changes in IBS, but a larger definitive study had not been completed until now.

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"Discovering structural changes in the brain, whether they are primary or secondary to the gastrointestinal symptoms, demonstrates an 'organic' component to IBS and supports the concept of a brain--gut disorder," says study author Emeran Mayer, professor of medicine, physiology, and psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. …

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