New study finds structural changes in specific brain regions in female patients with IBS

In a collaborative study between UCLA and Canada's McGill University, researchers employed imaging techniques to examine and analyse brain anatomical differences between 55 female IBS patients and 48 female control subjects, average age, 31. The IBS patients suffered from moderately severe IBS from one to 34 years (average 11 years).

IBS affects approximately 15% of the US population, and is mainly suffered by women. Currently, the condition is considered to be a ‘functional’ syndrome of the digestive tract not working properly rather than an ‘organic’ disorder with structural organ changes. Even though the pathophysiology is not completely understood, it is generally agreed that IBS represents an alteration in brain-gut interactions.

However this study shows actual structural changes to the brain, 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.
This 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.

Even after accounting for additional factors such as anxiety and depression, researchers still discovered differences between IBS patients and control subjects in areas of the brain involved in cognitive and evaluative functions which may point to a specific brain abnormality that heightens pain signals from the gut. Decreases in grey matter in IBS patients occurred in several regions involved in attentional brain processes, which may show that the brain is unable to effectively inhibit pain responses.

The observed decreases in brain grey matter were consistent across IBS patient sub-groups: structural brain changes varied between patients who characterised their symptoms primarily as pain, rather than non-painful discomfort. However, the length of time a patient has had IBS was not related to the structural brain changes.

The next steps in the research will include exploring whether genes can be identified that are related to these structural brain changes, increasing the study sample size to address male-female differences and determining if these brain changes are a cause or consequence of having IBS.

July issue of the journal Gastroenterology.

Courtesy of Science Daily


Click here for more research on IBS

First Published in July 2010

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