Autonomic cardiovascular responses are impaired in women with irritable bowel syndrome

J Clin Gastroenterol. 2004 Sep;38(8):658-63. doi: 10.1097/01.mcg.0000135362.35665.49.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Cardiovascular System / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Middle Aged