Unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms and joint hypermobility: is connective tissue the missing link?

Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2010 Mar;22(3):252-e78. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2982.2009.01421.x. Epub 2009 Oct 15.


BACKGROUND Unexplained gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and joint hypermobility (JHM) are common in the general population, the latter described as benign joint hypermobility syndrome (BJHS) when associated with musculo-skeletal symptoms. Despite overlapping clinical features, the prevalence of JHM or BJHS in patients with functional gastrointestinal disorders has not been examined. METHODS The incidence of JHM was evaluated in 129 new unselected tertiary referrals (97 female, age range 16-78 years) to a neurogastroenterology clinic using a validated 5-point questionnaire. A rheumatologist further evaluated 25 patients with JHM to determine the presence of BJHS. Groups with or without JHM were compared for presentation, symptoms and outcomes of relevant functional GI tests. KEY RESULTS Sixty-three (49%) patients had evidence of generalized JHM. An unknown aetiology for GI symptoms was significantly more frequent in patients with JHM than in those without (P < 0.0001). The rheumatologist confirmed the clinical impression of JHM in 23 of 25 patients, 17 (68%) of whom were diagnosed with BJHS. Patients with co-existent BJHS and GI symptoms experienced abdominal pain (81%), bloating (57%), nausea (57%), reflux symptoms (48%), vomiting (43%), constipation (38%) and diarrhoea (14%). Twelve of 17 patients presenting with upper GI symptoms had delayed gastric emptying. One case is described in detail. CONCLUSIONS & INFERENCES In a preliminary retrospective study, we have found a high incidence of JHM in patients referred to tertiary neurogastroenterology care with unexplained GI symptoms and in a proportion of these a diagnosis of BJHS is made. Symptoms and functional tests suggest GI dysmotility in a number of these patients. The possibility that a proportion of patients with unexplained GI symptoms and JHM may share a common pathophysiological disorder of connective tissue warrants further investigation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Connective Tissue / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / complications
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Gastrointestinal Motility / physiology
  • Humans
  • Joint Instability / complications
  • Joint Instability / epidemiology*
  • Joint Instability / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires