Background & aims: Children with chronic abdominal pain have a heterogeneous clinical presentation, but no organic cause can be identified in most of them. Some children present with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). We hypothesized that visceral hypersensitivity and motor abnormalities may be underlying mechanisms in these children.
Methods: Rectal sensation and rectal contractile response to a meal were studied in 8 children with IBS and 8 children with functional abdominal pain (FAP) and were compared with those of 9 healthy volunteers (HVs).
Results: The threshold for pain, but not that for first sensation and urge to defecate, was significantly decreased in IBS patients (6 +/- 1 mm Hg) compared with FAP patients and HVs (17 +/- 1 and 22 +/- 2 mm Hg, respectively). In HVs and patients with FAP, ingestion of a meal induced a decrease in rectal volume with an early and late component. This motor pattern was absent in children with IBS. In IBS patients, no rapid volume waves were observed during fasting in contrast to FAP patients (2.7 +/- 0.3/10 min) and HVs (1.8 +/- 0.5/10 min).
Conclusions: Children fulfilling the Rome II criteria for IBS have a significantly lowered threshold for pain and a disturbed contractile response to a meal. Comparable to results reported in adults, sensory and motor abnormalities might play a pathophysiologic role in childhood IBS.