Irritable bowel syndrome: Update on pathogenesis and management

Osama Alaradi, Jamie S. Barkin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) comprises a major proportion of gastrointestinal and primary care practice worldwide. The past several years have seen the rapid evolution of a new and comprehensive model of IBS based on alterations in brain-gut interactions. Alterations in the bidirectional communication between the enteric nervous system and the central nervous system are implicated in the pathogenesis of IBS. 5-Hydroxytryptamine (5-HT; serotonin), a major neurotransmitter in the gastrointestinal tract, and its receptors 5-HT3 and 5-HT4 are involved in the control of gastrointestinal function. A number of abnormal motor and sensory patterns have been reported in patients with IBS. However, it is not known whether these abnormalities are related to symptoms or have a role in establishing a diagnosis of functional gastrointestinal disorders. Visceral hyperalgesia in IBS patients can be secondary to altered receptor sensitivity at the viscus itself and altered central modulation of sensation involving psychological influences in the interpretation of these sensations. The development of diagnostic criteria for IBS helps to avoid unnecessary and costly investigations. A detailed history allows us to diagnose IBS and search for another cause if warning symptoms are present. The Rome criteria are presently used to define IBS and are currently the most widely applied criteria used in clinical diagnosis and research purposes. Abdominal pain or discomfort associated with chronic altered bowel habits are the mainstay in diagnosis, while the supportive criteria may be used to further classify IBS patients into diarrhea-predominant or constipation-predominant subgroups. Minimal diagnostic tests have been advocated in the initial diagnostic approach to patients with suspected IBS, depending on the predominant symptom. The therapeutic goals in IBS must focus on the overall well-being of the patient, including abdominal symptoms and the accompanying nonbowel symptoms and affective disorders. It is important to establish an effective physician-patient relationship and to reassure the patient once the diagnosis of IBS is made. Dietary modification may be of value in some patients with IBS. Dietary fiber is frequently recommended for patients with constipation-predominant IBS. Two novel serotonin agonists are currently under development for constipated IBS patients, tegaserod and prucalopride. Antidiarrheal agents, including loperamide and diphenoxylate, may help patients with diarrhea-predominant IBS. 5-HT3 receptor antagonists may play a role in the management of such patients in the future. Psychological treatment and antidepressants should be considered when IBS symptoms are severe or refractory or associated with psychological distress and impaired quality of life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-17
Number of pages16
JournalMedical Principles and Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002


  • Brain-gut interaction
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Enteric nervous system
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Motor function
  • Rome criteria
  • Sensory function
  • Serotonin
  • Visceral hyperalgesia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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