Goals: This study characterizes cardiovascular autonomic function in women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), using standardized techniques.
Background: Autonomic dysfunction is believed to contribute to abnormal gastrointestinal motility and visceral hypersensitivity in IBS. There is mounting evidence of generalized impairment of autonomic activity in patients with IBS.
Study: Thirty women aged 39 years (95% C.I. 25-53 years) diagnosed with IBS, and 30 age-matched healthy women were studied. The ratio of low frequency to high frequency heart rate variability domains (LF:HF ratio) was used to represent cardiac sympathovagal activity, and orthostatic testing and sustained isometric handgrip exercise were used as sympathetic stimuli. Parasympathetic activity was represented by the expiratory to inspiratory R-R interval (E:I) ratio during deep breathing at 6 minutes.
Results: LF:HF responses to handgrip exercise (316%, C.I. 134% to 498% vs. 107%, C.I. 15% to 153%; P < 0.05) and orthostatic testing (648%, C.I. 520% to 904% vs. 330%, C.I. 140% to 520%; P < 0.05) were higher in IBS patients than controls, and the E:I ratio was significantly lower (1.47, C.I. 1.33-1.61 vs. 1.20, C.I. 1.14-1.26; P < 0.01).
Conclusions: Autonomic cardiovascular function is impaired in IBS, manifest as attenuated cardio-vagal tone, and relative sympathetic excess during stimulated conditions.