Background & aims: The association of psychosocial disturbances with more severe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is well recognized. However, there is no evidence as to how these associations might be mediated. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) offers an opportunity to study whether activation of the cingulate cortex, an area involved with the affective and pain intensity coding might be linked to poorer clinical status with IBS. In this case report, we found an association between the severity of a patient's clinical symptoms and psychosocial state, with activation of the cingulate cortex. We also found that clinical and psychosocial improvement was associated with reduced cingulate activation.
Methods: Observational case report of a young woman observed for 16 years with a history of sexual abuse, psychosocial distress, and functional GI complaints. Psychosocial, clinical, and fMRI assessment was performed when the patient experienced severe symptoms and again 8 months later when clinically improved.
Results: During severe illness, the patient had major psychosocial impairment, high life stress, a low visceral pain threshold, and activation of the midcingulate cortex (MCC), prefrontal area 6/44, and the somatosensory cortex, areas associated with pain intensity encoding. When clinically improved, there was resolution in activation of these 3 areas, and this was associated with psychosocial improvement and an increased threshold to rectal distention.
Conclusions: Activation of the MCC and related areas involved with visceral pain encoding are associated with poor clinical status in patients with severe IBS and psychosocial distress and appear to be responsive to clinical improvement.