Brain Changes Linked To Stomach Problems

Maybe you should start blaming your brain for your tummy ache. A study conducted at the Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain at McGill University focused on the morphological changes in brain regions of women with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms. Interestingly, the scientists found a reduction in the regions of the brain associated with  pain relief, which may be in part why cramping can be so severe for some people with IBS.

The study sample consisted of women between 19 and 63 years of age: 56 women had IBS (study group) and 49 women did not have IBS (control group).  The results from the groups were compared according to age to compensate for the effect of age on the brain.  Each subject completed questionnaires concerning the IBS symptoms they experienced, IBS pain severity, digestive diseases, and depression.  Women diagnosed with mood disorders and women taking antidepressants and pain killers were not used in the study.  Brain scanning machinery was used to measure the gray mass density and cortical thickness of each region of the brain.

As mentioned earlier, the results showed a significant reduction in regions of the brain that release analgesic, or pain relieving, chemicals in IBS subjects who reported experiencing severe pain. Researchers concluded that the decreased activity in these regions may be responsible for the amplification of pain experienced by some individuals with this disease.  IBS patients also showed a reduction in emotion regulation regions, such as the thalamus. These women were found to have higher chances of depression and anxiety than women who did not have IBS.  Lastly, researchers noticed reductions in brain regions in accordance to the symptoms IBS subjects reported as the most bothersome, such as pain, diarrhea and constipation. This suggests that brain morphology may play a role in the predominant IBS symptoms different individuals experience.

However, all of these hypotheses will have to be tested among a larger sample, preferably with a concentration on gender and personality.  According to a similar study, gender and personality may affect the severity of IBS symptoms.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is treatable with prescribed medication, but you can also control the severity of your symptoms by eating a healthier diet and reducing stress levels.  Consult your doctor and a nutritionist for possible remedies.  Also, if you are experiencing depression or anxiety that may or may not be connected to IBS, seek the aid of a counselor.

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