Autonomic nervous system function in women with irritable bowel syndrome

Dig Dis Sci. 2001 Jun;46(6):1276-84. doi: 10.1023/a:1010671514618.


Autonomic nervous system (ANS) balance was assessed in women with and without irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) using laboratory tests of function (ie, expiratory/inspiratory ratio, Valsalva, posture changes, and cold pressor) and spectral and nonspectral measures of heart rate variability (HRV). Women with (N = 103) and without IBS (N = 49) were recruited, interviewed, then completed a laboratory assessment and wore a 24-hr Holter monitor Analysis using the entire sample showed little difference between IBS and control women and between subgroups with IBS on either laboratory measures or 24-hr HRV measures. However, analysis restricted to those women with severe IBS symptoms showed quite pronounced differences between two IBS subgroups on 24-hr HRV measures. Parasympathetic tone was significantly lower and ANS balance was significantly higher in the constipation-predominant compared to the diarrhea-predominant group. Subgroups of women with IBS do differ in ANS function as measured by 24-hr HRV; however, these differences are only apparent among women with severe symptoms. These findings point out the importance of considering symptom severity when interpreting studies of IBS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Colonic Diseases, Functional / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans