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IBS Sufferers Are Mostly Women: Why is This?

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What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The condition known as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder that involves having the regular symptoms of abdominal pain, gut contractions, and bowel habit changes that vary in frequency and severity through the years. Symptoms that are associated with irritable bowel syndrome include: acute diarrhea, bloating, constipation, fever, mucus in stools, and vomiting. One unique factor of irritable bowel syndrome is that the symptoms can affect men and women differently, which may lead researchers to a new and different understanding of the condition, as well as approaching treating it differently.

Researching the Pain Threshold

Research in the past has shown that the brain can prepare for a pain stimulus that can either inhibit or amplify a person's sensory experience. When a pain stimulus is expected, the brain can process and inhibit the intensity of the pain experience to make it a more predictable, tolerable, inescapable or beneficial experience to the body. This is done by the brain turning down the painful effects that process the pain signal. One way they do this is by turning down the brain circuits that process the pain signal in order to make the body's perception of pain more tolerable. When an anticipated pain is perceived as escapable and possibly harmful and dangerous (like burning a person's hand on a stove), the brain will amplify the pain response in order to react faster and minimize possible tissue damage. The study, however, did show that irritable bowel syndrome patients are not able to turn down this amplification effect of the pain response, even when expected pain is not dangerous. This lack of response makes a person more sensitive to even mild discomfort.

Understanding the Differences of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

According to the American College of Gastroenterology, about eighty percent of irritable bowel syndrome sufferers are women. While researchers aren't fully sure as to why this is the case, most suspect that hormonal changes in the female menstrual cycle may be responsible. However, recent studies from UCLA researchers have discovered that women with irritable bowel syndrome sufferers can not effectively switch off a pain modulation mechanisms in the brain, which makes them more sensitive to abdominal discomfort. These new findings have appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience and may lead to new treatments.

Finding a Remedy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

As noted, irritable bowel syndrome sufferers reported lower pain thresholds and more feelings of anxiety than an average healthy woman. Anxiety is correlated with more brain activity during anticipation, but not receipt of pain. Additional research is being made to see if some pain patients have a primary difference in their brain's reaction to pain. If these receptors and genes associated with these abnormal brain responses can be identified, then there could be an improvement in both the identification of predisposed patients and development of effective remedies.

Consult with Your Doctor

The effects of irritable bowel syndrome are not set for every case, and can vary from person to person. As with any medical condition, it important to consult with a physician to see which medical options are the best in order to relieve uncomfortable symptoms.


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